Rachel’s Camino de Santiago Blog
wrote this blog entirely on my phone as I walked the Camino.
Miles Across Spain:
My first walk with a 22 pound loaded pack at the beginning April 2019:
When we landed in Bordeaux around 10pm (with only 3 hours sleep), we headed out in search of what the city is famous for…the wine. We found plenty, met some nice 20-something European guys, and chatted and laughed until 1am.
an excellent beginning. I’m realizing I am most looking
forward to the people-part of this shared journey. I went to
Burning Man for a decade even though I despise intense heat
because of the sense of community there…people just simply
being kind to each other. I had heard that this is one of the
central elements of the Camino and the Camino “families” that
form on the road. Hopefully I’ll keep this positive outlook as
I experience for the first time dormitory-style bunk bed
accommodations in the albergues. As a light sleeper, my love
of community might sour after a few nights of a room full of
snorers :). But then again after long days of walking, I’ll
probably be so dead tired that I might be snoring away myself.
I followed the stream of Pilgrims up a hill and found the Pilgrim’s office. There I received my Pilgrim’s passport and attached a scallop shell to my pack making me official.
I dropped my pack at the albergue, stepped out into the cobblestone street and was suddenly so overcome with emotion that I burst into tears. I felt such a rush of gratitude and joy that I was actually there and undertaking this journey at this transitional time in my life. Luckily, sunglasses provided me cover to collect myself before drawing any stares. I wiped my face off and proceeded to check out the gorgeous town with symbols of the Camino everywhere.
I met another Pilgrim, Ivana from Connecticut. As we sat down to drink a glass of wine, she told me that she had been planning her walk for 15 months and was doing this walk to renew her faith. Will arrived later, we all got dinner and then I got to experience my first albergue…about 15 people in a room, a chorus of snores (a snorus!), and very little sleep for me. Still jet-lagged and already on 2 nights of little sleep, I started my first day of walking on about 3 hours sleep.
I showered, repacked my backpack, met up with Will to begin
climbing the French Pyrenees.
Some walk up and over in one grueling day, but we decided to break it into 2 days, so we had booked at an albergue in Orison, a town on the French side of the Pyrenees. It was beautiful and sunny, and as we walked out of St. Jean, there were streaks in the sky overhead that looked like the scallop shell that is the symbol of the Camino and the marker that guides the Pilgrims along the 500 mile path. Talk about your good omens.
The scenery was beautiful but the walk was all uphill and got steeper as we went. The irony of this walk is that the steepest and most dangerous segment is on the first day. Unfortunately, many have died walking over the Pyrenees, especially when there is bad weather. I had heard stories of Pilgrims who had walked off cliffs during low visibility. We passed a few red-faced, puffing Pilgrims and as the path steepened, I could really feel my lack of sleep and at times felt a little dizzy and nauseous.
We arrived in Orisson around 11am where there was one small albergue.
to hand wash some clothes, hang them on the communal line, and
chat with the Pilgrims also staying there. At 6:30pm, the
albergue laid out that evening's communal dinner to about 50
Pilgrims which included chicken, peas, potatoes, bread, and
delicious unlimited carafes of French red wine.
Sadly, we also came across a lot of markers indicating Pilgrims who died there.
Overall, we had about 3 hours of lots of uphill, an hour of some steep downhill and then for the next two and a half hours, it flattened out, and the weather warmed. The landscape was just stunning and the ground was covered in leaves.
We emerged from the woods into a town called Roncevalles where most Pilgrims stop and stay but we pushed on another hour to the small village of Espinal.
We had walked from France to Spain, and I was elated to be back in Spain. I had moved to Madrid, Spain after grad school for a year in 1995 and this was very life-changing and defining for me. I learned the beautiful language of Spanish which opened up my worldview and gave me a fearlessness of travel that led to going to about 40-50 countries in the two decades since. In many ways, coming to Spain feels like coming home. We settled into our new albergue (13 beds in the room this time), took showers and headed to our communal Pilgrim dinner.
hung out in the pub with the Irish guy I mentioned before who
was really interesting and had lived in Beijing for several
years. The next day was supposed to be another tough and long
walking day, and I found I was completely looking forward to
it. My body and feet felt great, I felt like I’d been hungrily
drinking in the beautiful nature around me all day, and I
looked forward to meeting more of my fellow humans on this
crazy walking journey.
left the little village of Espinal, Spain in the morning and
walked through some beautiful rural countryside, a side of
Spain I had never experienced living in Madrid. It was also
starting to drizzle as we left our albergue.
It rained lightly off and on all day causing us to strip off our rain gear only to put it back on further down the road. We also definitely needed to be more cautious going down some of the slicker downhill spots. But the weather didn’t seem to dampen people’s moods. There were many bright smiles and the shared salutation of “buen Camino” all along the way.
day there were many Pilgrims on the path, but not bunched
together because everyone walks at different paces. There was
a trio of Frenchmen who we first heard before seeing on Day 1
as they came up behind us in a rapid clatter of tapping hiking
poles. They went zipping past, all of them moving together in
a military-like precision. On Day 3, we heard them again
before we saw them. I said to Will, I can hear team France
coming our way. Later we passed them again as it appeared they
were doing their Camino in power bursts. The next time they
went clicking past us Will said, “There goes Napoleon’s
When we finished, everyone was gathering in the dining room and our Colombian host, he had married a Spanish woman and bought this albergue which was also their home, had prepared us a delicious meal. 10 of us sat down to dinner: a German man, a woman from Uruguay who now lives in Switzerland, a Cuban man who lives in Florida, the couple I mentioned, me, Will, and more Brazilians: a family with a daughter and her father and aunt walking together. There wasn’t one shared language in the room and yet we had a lively dinner conversation with some of us translating for others. After dinner and after everyone went to bed, Will and I stayed up with our Colombian host, who didn’t speak any English, and drank beers with him and chatted for another couple hours.
In the last hour as we got closer to Pamplona, it was a little disconcerting to see cars again and to wait at traffic lights. We arrived at our albergue in the center of Pamplona in front of an enormous and beautiful cathedral. We dropped our packs off and went in search of food and ran into a a street procession, and a plaza full of people drinking, eating and dancing to live music in the streets! After 4 days of walking through the countryside, it was surreal.
After eating, we headed back to the albergue to shower and the
Brazilian woman I helped with her book and her boyfriend John
were also staying there. Will went back out as I sat down to
write this blog, and he said the party outside was still going
strong and he just heard a brass band playing "YMCA" by the
Village People. So I’m signing off for now to join the fun.
Tomorrow is Will’s last day before he flies home. It will be
so strange to be here alone and I don’t know how I feel about
it yet. Well, hopefully the Camino will provide :).
Day 5: Pamplona was so much fun that I will definitely be going back there again some day. Day 5 started off a little strangely at 3:30 am. Will and I had gone out and joined the fun. We were right in the center where all the bars were packed and people were spilling out into the streets. We bar hopped to about 6 different places drinking beers, enjoying tapas, and occasionally chatting with Spaniards who had also done the Camino.
Will was enjoying the Camino so much, that he decided that instead of two days is Madrid before heading home, he’d spend one day there and one more on the Camino. The air was crisp and a bit chilly as we walked out of Pamplona, but the sun was out and we were treated to another day of stunning landscapes.
And soon we were on a steady uphill climb.
We soon reached the top of Alto del Perdón and it was a bit windy.
The walk down from the peak was initially a little treacherous as
the path was covered with rocks.
Another hour down the road, and we came across Ana, the woman from Uruguay and who now lives in Switzerland who had stayed in our same albergue two nights before. We walked the rest of the way that day, about 2 hours, chatting in Spanish as she didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French. After Ana retired at 65, she did her first Camino walking from Switzerland to Southern France. For the Camino this time, she went back to where she ended before in southern France and started walking from there, so she had been on the road 5 days longer than we had. She spoke softly and told us the names in Spanish of the plants, trees and flowers we passed. Ana is 66 years old, doing these walks by herself, and she’s beat cancer twice. There are some amazing people on this Camino.
We walked through some small villages and during the last hour, both Ana and I were dragging. My blisters were fine and actually healing pretty quickly, but the muscles in the top of my thighs and front of my shins were sore. We ended our 6.5 hour walk day with her in the town of Puente la Reina (Queen's bridge).
It was Will’s last day, so we “splurged” and paid 56 euros ($62 or $31 each) and got our own room in a hotel with 2 beds and a private bathroom. Luxury! The albergues cost anywhere from 5-10 euros (about $6-12 dollars) and often included breakfast. In some places, they offered a communal Pilgrim dinner for about $10-15 dollars (I’ll just translate euros to dollars from here on out)…this was more common in the smaller towns and villages. Will and I did some more sampling of the local drinks and tapas, and stayed up until midnight chatting with some of the locals in the bar next to our hotel. My Spanish was getting a work out.
Day 6: Will left at 7am in a taxi to Pamplona where he was grabbing a bus to Madrid to fly home from there. It was sad saying goodbye, and I promised to do lots of hiking with him when I got back home.
I didn’t need to check out until noon which was quite different from the albergue 8am check out. The average Pilgrim day so far had been get up around 6-6:30am, breakfast around 7am, on the road by 7:30-8am, walk 5-7 hours, shower and rest, 7pm dinner, 9pm sleep. With the late check out, I decided to do a rest day and leave later and just walk a couple of hours to the next village. Since it was a short walk and sunny weather, I decided this would be the first day I’d carry my larger pack. They have a really nice service on the Camino where you can pay about $4-6 dollars and they will take your heavier pack to your next albergue. I carried my lighter day-pack up and over the Pyrenees and then with the blisters, I gave myself a few days more to heal. To be honest, carrying the heavy pack is the thing I had most worried about for the Camino. For the past 5 years or so, my hips have been chronically sore. I’ve been to many doctors and specialists and no one has been able to help. I wasn’t sure if carrying the pack day after day would make things worse, but there was one way to find out.
I left at noon starving and forgot that Spaniards typically don’t eat lunch until 2-3pm so everything was closed. I found a little market, grabbed a bag of chips and headed out. I crossed the bridge that gave the town its name and some nice Pilgrims took my picture.
I had thought the walk would be flat. It was not. The majority of the walk was a slow burn up hill with no tree cover and it was quite a warm day.
My hip joints did feel tired, but going up the hills I went slow but felt strong. Halfway up one particularly steep hill, I met a woman named Melissa from Mexico living in Florida, and we walked and talked the rest of the way speaking sometimes in English and other times in Spanish.
The landscape was dryer and there were lots of vineyards.
I arrived in my destination town, a mountain town (hence all the hills) called Cirauqui.
I’ve again signed on for the Pilgrim dinner which apparently is in a really cool cave. Now that I’m solo, time to go make some friends :).
Day 7: The Pilgrim dinner in the cave the evening before (which used to be a wine cellar) was a fun experience. We had prawns & garbanzos, salad, red wine and a delicious dessert. I chatted with two really nice guys from Michigan, one teaches college classes on pilgrimages, and he was a wealth of information.
In the morning, I woke up at 6:45am and I was one of 3 Pilgrims left in a 16 bunk room. I guess I was being a lazy Pilgrim! I made up for it later as I did my first 7 hour walk day (about 14.5 miles but with a couple meal stops) with the big pack. The benefit of carrying your pack is that you can be free and nomadic. You can walk how far you want and then you can stop and stay where you like, but the only catch is you need to find accommodations without making a reservation. This was the very first day I didn’t book my next lodging. I had decided to walk as far as I could. The month of May had turned out to be a busy time on the Camino, so I was hoping all the beds in the town I finally ended up in weren’t already taken.
My legs felt great during the walk, but my feet were feeling very sore during the last 2 hours. I walked from Cirauqui to a town called Villamayor de Monjardín. I walked for the first 2 hours completely alone and put my headphones in for the first time enjoying music and later some of an audible book. Again, the surroundings were gorgeous.
As I worked my way up a hill, I met a nice Indian man who was living in Australia. We chatted and walked together until I decided to stop at a little cafe in a small town around 9:30am and had one of my favorite Spanish breakfasts: tortilla de patata, fresh squeezed pulpy orange juice and a cafe con leche.
As I carried on, I saw more and more Pilgrims on the path and walked through some scenic villages.
Then the Dutch man and I stopped for lunch and I met the nicest guy from Portugal named Ruban who was now living in London.
going further than I was that day, so we said goodbye as I
arrived in Villamayor de Monjardín. Luckily, the first
albergue I arrived in had 3 beds left so I got one of them. I
walked into my 12 bunk room and the first person I saw was
Ivana who I had met my very first day in St Jean! Such a small
world. We hugged and greeted each other like old friends.
We then headed out into the village and hung out with more Pilgrims.
There is something about doing this shared difficult endeavor together that unifies and crosses cultural and language boundaries. This is hands down one of the most absolutely beautiful and surprising aspects of the Camino that I am appreciating and fully embracing.
I had my first what-the-heck-was-I-thinking days. First, I didn’t
sleep very well. I was in another 14 bunk room. I woke up at 2
a.m., it was really hot, there were at least 2 loud snorers,
and the church bells were chiming every half hour. After a
fitful night, I got up a little after 6 a.m., packed up, and
joined the Pilgrims downstairs around 7am for the breakfast
that was included.
started out by myself and was listening to music when I came
across a guy in his early 20s moving quite slowly. I took off
my headphones, greeted him and asked where he was from. He
said Poland and that he had hurt his Achilles tendon so was
now taking it slow. He radiated such sweetness and had a big
smile even though he must have been in a lot of pain. I
matched his pace and talked with him a bit and soon Tomas and
his friend Jesus caught up to us. I returned to my regular
walking pace and for the next 3 hours walked and talked with
As we neared the next town, Los Arcos, I was feeling really exhausted. My feet were feeling as sore as they did at the very end of the day before, and I was only 3 hours along. Carrying my big pack was really taking a pounding on my feet. Also, my mouth and tongue felt tired from speaking Spanish, and my brain was tired from listening so attentively to understand everything the guys were saying in their super rapid-fire Spanish. At this point, we caught up with Ivana and Michaela, and I stopped with them in Los Arcos for some much needed food and rehydration and the Spaniards pushed on.
almost felt too tired to chew, but I finished before the other
two women and told them I was carrying on. I knew I needed to
walk alone, so I could listen to music or a book to distract
me from my increasing tiredness. I’m glad I did because the
next stretch was rough.
For long stretches of it, I just closed my tired eyes and plodded on. It felt like trudging drudgery. Then there were some sheep.
And then more of this.
The last hour walking felt like 4 hours and I kept asking myself why the heck I was doing this. I missed my cat. I missed my friends. I missed my bed. And here I was in the baking sun, all alone, walking and walking and walking. As I finally neared the next town, I was leaning heavily on my walking stick and saw I had worn the rubber bottom down to the metal.
As I finally got nearer to my albergue in Torres del Rios, it started to sprinkle. I picked up my dragging pace in case it started to full on rain. I arrived a little wet but it at least cooled me off, and for the first time, not only did I get a bed on the floor (the top bunks are so hard to get in and out of especially for a bathroom run in the dark middle of the night), but I also scored the only non bunk bed in the room!
The Camino tortures and then the Camino again provides! Then a
bunch of other road weary Pilgrims started to arrive: the
really sweet Polish guy, Emma, one of the women I made dinner
with the night before, and a really nice South African couple
I’d met a few days back. I told them I had my first rough day,
and they shared their own aches and pains, and we all laughed
about the endless road we had all just walked with the
seemingly unreachable horizon. But we had made it and now
after a shower and a rest, oddly, I feel ready to do it again
Day 9: After a rough day yesterday, the Camino and I are friends again. So that I would have a good day and because another toe was bordering on a blister, for $5 I sent my big pack ahead to the next albergue and walked with my smaller day-pack. For the first half of the day I was practically skipping down the Camino. I think I will alternate days with the heavier pack and then wear the lighter pack when I need some rest days.
The evening before I had hung out with a group of solo women travelers: Susan from Norway, Emma from England, who I had cooked with the evening before, Yoon, a young woman from South Korea, and Dolors, a Spanish woman from Catalonia Spain. It turned out all of us were avid travelers. Emma had been all over Africa, Susan and Dolors had traveled all over the world, and Yoon was nursing a sore knee she had injured while trekking in South America. We were all walking to the same city, Logroño, the next day. This is one of the bigger cities on the Camino, and Dolors said it had great nightlife, and it was Dolor’s last day because she had to get back to her son, so we made plans to meet up for dinner and a barhop. I figured I could do a late night as I got a private room with a private bathroom for $25 and it had a check out at 10am! All seeming like unspeakable luxuries at this point. So I had a nice egg and chorizo breakfast sandwich, a café con leche, and I hit the road around 7:30am.
It was a brisk beautiful morning, the sun was at my back and nature was showing off. So so beautiful.
And I had some fun with the shadows.
Further along, sadly there were some markers for fallen Pilgrims.
For the first time, I walked the entire day by myself and didn’t listen to music or books. It was just me and the Camino.
would occasionally pass others and even saw the lovely South
African couple again who had been in the same albergue the
night before. I passed by and then they caught up with me in
the next town called Viana where I was sitting having a hot
chocolate, so they and their German friend joined me.
And then I headed back out on my own.
last hour, I was starting to feel pretty tired, and my feet
were getting increasingly sore when an older Spanish woman
stopped me on the trail and asked if I spoke Spanish. I said
yes and she asked me if I were doing the Camino for religious
reasons. I told her I was doing it for a mixture of reasons.
Then she said that according to the Bible people shouldn’t do
it to suffer. Then she started talking about scripture and
pulled out her phone and started reading passages from the
Bible to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. She was talking really
fast and using a lot of religious terminology in Spanish I
wasn’t fully understanding. She wasn’t even giving a break in
the conversation for me to ask any questions. After about 5
minutes I saw Susan, the Norwegian woman from the night
before, coming up trail, so I was able to say that my friend
was here and I wanted to walk with her. The woman bid me
goodbye and I thanked Susan for her timely arrival. The night
before, Susan had mentioned that she likes to hang out with
people at night but walk the Camino alone, so once we rounded
a bend, I bid her a "buen Camino" and left her to walk by
As I neared my albergue, I thought the neighboring mural that said “Girl Power” was very fitting. So far I had met some really amazing women and was looking forward to hanging out with them that night. After I settled into my albergue, I started texting with Dolors and Emma to make plans. Then I ran into Michaela who was also checking into my same hostal and she was excited to join us as well. Soon after, Ivana texted me that she had just arrived, so I think we’re going to have a fun ladies night. I’m very glad I have a late check out tomorrow!
Day 10: I’m not going to lie, I started out the morning feeling a little rough and a lot dehydrated. After a few ibuprofen I was ready to start my day at the luxurious late hour of 8 a.m. Our ladies night turned out to be a much larger group of fun pilgrims ranging in ages from 20s to 50s. Dolors had met more Pilgrims and invited them along, so at 5 p.m. I met the group and we started drinking delicious Rioja wine at $6 a bottle!
Needless to say, we went through a few bottles.
was sitting next to a very interesting guy living in England
named Craig who was a gay Pagan prison chaplain, and he was
walking the whole Camino in a kilt, which you can hear him
talking about in the video I posted. In the video you can hear
him saying how he was wearing his kilt like a true Scotsman,
with nothing underneath. I also met my first Camino-formed
couple, a young woman from São Paulo, Brazil and a really
funny guy from León, Spain. She told me one night they were
partying so hard that she came back to the albergue and
accidentally crawled into a top bunk bed that another woman
was already sleeping in. Then the girl from São Paulo rolled
over and fell off the top bunk and onto the ground. In the
morning, the woman whose bunk she crawled into asked her how
she was feeling and then had to tell her about the fall
because she didn’t remember any of it. So the girl from São
Paulo took off her sweatshirt and her left shoulder and arm
were a big purple bruise. Everyone walks their their own
Camino and they were doing a wilder walk than I was :).
I said goodbye to Dolors who was headed back home and to Emma and Michaela who were both doing a rest day in Logroño. We all exchanged contact information and I really hope I see them again.
I also said goodbye to my lovely single room in Logroño and headed out towards Navarrete. It had rained during the night but as I headed out, the ground was wet and the skies were cloudy, but thankfully no rain.
As I left the city, it was difficult to find the markers for the Camino. Sometimes the path is really well marked with either yellow arrows or the scallop shell symbol. But other times you feel like Hansel and Gretel trying to follow the bread crumbs. Here are some examples of what these markers can look like and where you might see them.
Leaving Logroño it was hard to find the markers and I had to ask a few Spaniards if I were on the right path. I was also happy to be leaving the hustle and bustle of big city life.
Soon, I was back out in the beautiful countryside.
I was about an hour down the road listening to music when a guy started talking to me, so I put away my headphones and met Ben from Germany. He asked me how many kilometers I planned to go that day, and I told him I was still struggling to understand kilometers because we use miles in the United States. I have to say there’s a lot more math involved on the Camino than my English teacher brain had bargained for. Much of the conversations with other Pilgrims involve distance, which is always in kilometers, or the weight of backpacks, which is always in kilograms, or weather and temperature, which is always in Celsius. Unfortunately the United States uses a system not based on tens so it doesn’t make a lot of sense and requires some complicated math to convert. We soon caught up to his friend who he was traveling with Erika, and she told me this was her second Camino. The first one she left from her home in Germany, walked through Switzerland and France, walked this entire Camino and then went South. She walked for 4 months.
Soon we arrived at a hut where a man sat with a table of oranges, bananas and walking staffs. You could take any of these things with an optional donation of your choice. Erika got very excited and said, “Oh, this is Marcelino, he is a famous pilgrim!” We all stopped for about 20 minutes and chatted with him. He told me he started doing the Camino in 1961 when he was 17 and has since dedicated his life to walking and meeting people and focusing on what is important: family, love, and kindness. He said he has done Caminos with his dog and donkey and had pictures in his hut of him walking past Caminos.
He said he met Barack Obama when someone in Obama’s family did the Camino and wanted him to meet a guy “straight out of Biblical times.”
Erika, Ben and I carried on and Ben was really hilarious. He said on this journey he would look inside to find himself, but who knows, maybe no one will be home. Soon another German came up behind us who they had met earlier, a younger guy named Benjamin. This was turning into German day! He and I walked ahead and chatted all the way into the next town. He was a Civil Engineer also from Southern Germany like Ben and Erika and was another really nice and interesting person. It has also been interesting how many working professionals I’ve met here with a variety of careers. I’ve met a veterinarian, at least 5 nurses, a doctor, 3 psychiatrists so far, a few teachers, a chemical engineer, a graphic designer, a contractor, a doctor, a winery owner, a city planner, and the list goes on.
Soon we arrived in Navarette, my destination for the day, so I said goodbye and went into my albergue. The guy who ran it had a wall filled with completed Pilgrim’s passports, as he does the Camino every few years and also did one in Japan.
I headed into my 6-bunk dorm room and so far there was just one other Pilgrim in the room and she was from, one guess…Germany! She only spoke a few words of English, but she was so nice and welcoming. I took off my shoes and was cutting off the tape I had wrapped around my sore toes and recovering blisters, and she reached into her pack and brought over some gel plasters. So nice. I thanked her but told her I had bought some and that now I was putting on flip-flops to let my feet breathe. Then she started trying to communicate with me and started naming years and was saying 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019 and I realized she was telling me the years she had done the Camino. She looked to be in her late 60s and she said she had asthma. More incredible people on the Camino.
I told her I’d see her at the Pilgrim’s dinner that night, and headed into town in search of food. So far this village had been one of my favorite places so far. I was really loving seeing tranquil, unhurried village life. In my real life, I feel like I’m always impatient and rushing around. Now I finally feel like I’m really slowing down, in the best way. As I walked around the small village in the warm sun, I felt a deeply contented peace.
I found the main plaza and there was an enormous beautiful church there.
I walked in and even though I’m not religious, I felt like I was in a very special place.
I walked outside and there were Erika and Ben sitting at an outdoor cafe, so we had lunch together, and I had the most incredible paella.
Then a guy walked up, I greeted him in English, and he said hello back and asked if he could join us. We said of course and asked where he was from. He was from Austria. Not Germany but German speaking…this really was German day. Here’s Ben and Hans.
Hans said he also read in the book that in 1918, 60 Pilgrims walked the Camino and that last year 300,000 did. Then 3 younger women walked up looking for a table, and I don’t think I need to tell you where they were from. I’m pretty sure Germany is empty this month :). Surprisingly, there are also a lot of Americans, French, Italians, Koreans, and Brazilians. Well, I’m headed to the communal Pilgrim’s dinner soon. If there are any more Germans in this town, I’m sure I’ll see them there!
Ps. Quick update, as I’m in my bunk finishing this entry, a new Pilgrim just joined us and I think you can see where this is going. A museum model maker from Munich, Germany!
11: The evening before was a
very interesting Pilgrim’s dinner. There were just 7 of us:
the two Germans in my same room, I think named Barbara and
Doug, but their English was limited and their accents strong,
so I’m not sure if I have that right. There was a nice couple
from the Bay Area, the husband described himself as a hippy,
and his wife’s ancestry was German so she could understand the
Germans a little bit. There was a young woman from Hungary who
spoke heavily accented English. There was also a guy, Vic,
from western Australia. And lastly, there was Javier, a
Spaniard from Barcelona who spoke no English.
I’m not sure if we helped or hindered their views of Californians :).
everyone left the table and Vic, Javier and I chatted for
another hour and a half. When Vic would talk, I would
translate everything he was saying into Spanish, and when
Javier would talk, I would do the same and translate
everything into English. And when I told a story, I’d say a
sentence in English then translate it in Spanish, then another
sentence in English then translate it in Spanish and so on, so
no one was sitting there for too long not understanding. It
was a linguistic workout. It turned out that the guys had a
lot in common. Both were avid hikers, both liked doing solo
backpacking, and both were walking the Camino logging in long
days of many kilometers. Vic was going to do the Camino in 25
days. Following the Camino guidebook many use here, the walk
is broken into 33 stages (days) and that’s going at a good
clip without taking any rest days. It was really cool to be
able to bridge communication like that and find that these two
guys who couldn’t even communicate had quite a bit in common.
Makes me wonder how often this must be true not just between
people who can’t communicate but even between people who just
walked and talked, I still managed to take pictures to capture
the ever changing Spanish countryside we were walking across
or what David referred to as “a beautiful assault on the
in one town called Nájera for a snack.
We carried on together to the next town where I was staying called Azofra. He was pushing on, so we said goodbye. It was a relatively brief friendship connection, but I won’t forget him. I feel the imprint of the different people I meet here each day. The people here and their kindness is a beautiful assault on the senses.
Day 12: Happy Mother’s Day! So of course I called my mother and she was very happy to hear I was safe and sound, and she was happy she could follow where I was on the blog each day. I left Azofra at 8:30 a.m. and the skies were bright blue, definitely no rain today, and there were streaks criss- crossing in the sky overhead.
I walked all morning by myself enjoying an audible book and taking pictures of the gorgeous countryside.
The weather so far had been really good for this trip. The first day when I walked over the Pyrenees, it was cold at the top and it rained a little bit and there was snow on the ground in one part, but I heard the next day it was snowing and raining and it was a really brutal crossing for those who went the day after me. Since then there was a day or two with some light rain, but so far nothing too bad. For the past week, it had been nice and brisk in the morning, and warm in the afternoons. Having lived in Spain before, I knew that summers would be too hot to do a walk like this with temperatures in the upper 90s, so I’m really grateful that my school had given me this amazing opportunity as I wouldn’t have been able to do it during my summer vacation. Also, since it was spring, it was very green and wild flowers were blooming everywhere.
However, as I kept walking, I was getting increasingly tired, my back and hips were feeling tight, and I was worried I might be coming down with something. I had taken some flu medication I had brought with me the night before, and I had a great night’s sleep, so I was surprised I was already feeling run down and it wasn’t even noon yet. I was also getting some small shoots of pain in my left foot, the foot that had the tendonitis in it before I left and the reason why I was still taking anti-inflammatories. Additionally, in the last day or two, the middle toes on my right foot had been starting to hurt, so in the morning I had been wrapping those in Band-Aids and tape along with my big toes, as the blisters were gone but where they were was still tender and a little painful.
stopped to rest and get lunch in one of the bigger towns
called Santo Domingo. I ordered calamari and an ensalada
mixta, a typical Spanish salad with tuna, eggs, tomatoes, and
other vegetables. As I waited for my food, a local guy in his
60s came in to have a glass of wine. In Spanish, he asked
where I was from and I told him California, and we started
chatting about the Camino. He said he’s done the Camino three
times…in a car. I laughed and he asked me if it were true that
the albergues were full of snoring people. I confirmed that
there could be a lot of snorers, but occasionally you’ll be in
a quiet room. He asked me if I was sure I was from California,
because he said I sounded like an Española.
finished eating and walked further into the town, I saw that
this celebration had brought out the whole town. As I walked
towards the main cathedral in the center of town, crowds of
people were lined up on both sides of the street. Soon a
religious procession came down the center. First were the
religious leaders of the church, followed by young boys in
traditional dress dancing, followed by people carrying the
thousand-year-old remains of Saint Domingo on their shoulders
After the procession had passed, I waded my way through the crowds and saw the beautiful Church where many had just attended mass.
Ready to carry onto the next town, I looked around but couldn’t find any of the markers for the Camino. It was a bit disconcerting to not have yellow arrows or scallop shells to guide my way. I asked a local, and he guided me back. It’s strange, but it was a big relief to find the yellow Camino markers again. How was I going to adjust back to my real life with no markers to follow?
As I was walking out of town, I looked in front of me and across the street were Erica and Ben, the fun Germans I had met 2 days before. We had a happy reunion, and they said they read about themselves in my blog, and Erika had sent the link to her daughter, so her daughter could see what she was up to.
They had both stayed an extra day in Santo Domingo because of the religious celebration, and they had attended the mass and Ben, a Catholic, said it was one of the most special things he had ever attended and not just on the Camino. We then talked about how amazing it was that you could run back into the same people even though so many people were walking the Camino at different paces and staying in different places. Erika said she read about David in my blog, and she told me she had walked with him the day before. When David and I were talking, he had had dinner with Craig, the prison chaplain I had met in Logroño. It’s so interesting the criss-crossing that happens even though we’re all heading in the same forward direction. Erica said there are no coincidences but just incidences and that they are a gift.
not a coincidence was that we were all headed to Grañón
because Erica had recommended that I go there and stay if I
could. She said that there was a special church there that the
Pilgrims can stay in, make a communal dinner together, and
then sleep on mats on the floor in the church all for free and
they can donate what they like. There are 3 rooms in the
church full of side by side mats.
that Camino-hardcore (there are 2 bathrooms and 2 showers for
what looked like 60 or more people), so I was in an albergue
down the road, but I joined them for dinner and it was so
amazing. When I walked in, people from all different
countries, speaking different languages were singing, dancing
and playing music together.
Then Ben, my German friend, sat down at the piano and I didn’t even know he could sing and play, and he started playing songs by request and everyone was singing along with him.
Then they served a dinner. It’s incredible they serve this many Pilgrims every night. No charge, no profit.
Afterwards, we all washed the dishes together.
There was such a beautiful sense of community. More than I ever expected. Afterwards, those who were interested went into the church for the Reflection.
As we passed around a candle, we each shared what the Camino meant to us. Some spoke in their native language and others shared in accented English, clearly not their native language, so that more people in the room could understand what they wanted to share. Some cried as they were speaking, some shared very personal parts of their lives, and it was a very beautiful and moving experience. At the end, one of the volunteers who helps run everything said, “You don’t just walk the Camino with your feet, but also with your heart.” Then we all went around and gave each other hugs.
Tomorrow, I’ll be walking out of the Rioja region and into the region called Burgos. My feet may be sore and tired, but my heart feels full and nourished.
Today was a walk and talk day. As I was having breakfast in
Grañón, I ran into Craig again, the pagan prison chaplain. He
told me the sad news that a 62 year old Pilgrim from Holland
died the day before not far from where we were. It was a
sobering reminder of how rough on the body this pilgrimage
We both talked at a fast pace sharing funny stories as we walked together the first half of the day, and soon my face hurt from laughing. He’s a larger than life person and also sort of a Camino celebrity. When we stopped to get water, all the Pilgrims were taking turns to get their picture taken with him. I also snapped a pic of him filling up his water bottle.
We talked about his religion, homophobia, his life in Birmingham, and I shared some of the more colorful Spanish cuss words and some unfortunate and embarrassing mistakes I made when learning Spanish.
Some pictures of the views as we walked and from when we stopped in at a local church.
When we stopped in the next town, I was ready for lunch, but Craig wanted to push onto the next town as he’d heard there was a monastery where you could eat and pray with the monks, so I said goodbye and met David, from Spain, and Joe, from Germany.
After lunch, I carried on with Joe for the next 4 hours or so to the town of Villafranca, and we talked about the different people we’d met along the way, politics, and because he majored in economics and works in finance, we talked about the changing global markets as well as the effects of Trump locally and globally. His English was quite good, and he also said he really liked American stand up and like Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Louis C.K, Bill Burr, and other comics I also really liked (I’d seen the first 3 live). Being able to understand humor and comediennes is definitely a higher level of language proficiency with the play on words, slang, and pop culture references. I’m pretty sure a Spanish-speaking comedienne would go right over my head. The surrounding views continued to be beautiful.
We arrived in Villafranca, and I stayed in my first albergue with single beds (non-bunk beds) with half-wall partitions between the beds and a locker to stow the backpack.
I set my bed up (laid out my sleep sack and grabbed a blanket), showered and headed to the patio where Joe was having a beer with another guy from Germany, Herman. That’s right, Herman the German.
Soon we were chatting with an Aussie couple and an English guy that they had met before on the Camino and were walking it again together.
We all then went to dinner as a group, and it was fun getting to know more people.
slept late (7am), and was one of the last Pilgrims in the dorm
room when I woke up. My big toe on my right foot hurt, and I
really didn’t want to put my feet back into the hiking shoes.
My best friend Rob, also a fellow teacher at Skyline, was
meeting me in Santiago on June 5th, and we had talked about
him hopping on a bus and coming to meet me on the Camino and
walking the last 2-3 days with me. But a few days ago, we had
talked about it again, and we both felt like it might be
strange to have somebody just join in for the last few days
with a bunch of Pilgrims who had been walking a lot longer,
and suffered a lot more, and he would be jumping in with his
new shiny shoes and arriving at the finale with everyone. We
decided instead that he and I would walk from Santiago to
Finisterre. The Camino officially ends in Santiago, but many
choose to carry on and walk all the way to the ocean. “Fin” in
Spanish means “end” and “tierra” means land, so the name
Finisterre means end of the land or earth. Before Columbus
sailed out and found there was more land and more people in
the Americas, the Spaniards believed that this was the literal
end of the world. So my bestie Rob and I would be walking to
the ends of the earth together!
After walking around all morning, I checked into my hostel at 2pm and did something I hadn’t done in two weeks, I took a 2-hour bath and soaked my tired muscles, and it was wonderful. In the early evening, I headed back out into the city and the streets were now filled with Spaniards hanging out with their friends and families. I had enjoyed hanging out all that morning by myself, but now I found myself looking around to try to find my fellow Pilgrims. But because it was a big city, the Pilgrims had been swallowed up by the city, and it felt like just me and the Spaniards. Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? That’s how I felt. As I walked around, I felt very solitary and even melancholy. The city was incredibly scenic all the same.
Just as I was feeling like the only person by themselves in the city center, I got a text from one of the women I met on the Camino asking which city I was in, followed right away by a message from another of the really cool women I had met who was a few days behind but just checking in to say hi, and then I got an email from Joe the German I had walked with the day before. My Camino family was reaching out when I needed it most.
None were in Burgos, so I sat at an outdoor cafe to have dinner and saw nachos on the menu. When I had lived in Madrid for a year in the 90s, the thing I missed the most was Mexican food, which at the time didn’t really exist there. Seeing nachos on the menu, I decided I would give it a try.
The chips were fine covered in chopped tomato, onion, beef, and white cheese (not typical), but the tiny bit of sour cream on the side wasn’t enough for more than a few chips, the other little side was BBQ sauce(?), and the green stuff I think was supposed to be guacamole but it was inedible. I appreciated the attempt though :). As I sat there, I saw again the criss-cross of airplane trails in the sky overhead which I had seen quite a few times and had started looking at as a symbol for the Camino because even though thousands were walking it, I kept running across the same friends.
I paid my bill, started walking across the square when I heard my name, and there was Erika, the German woman who was traveling with Ben, who I’d already run into several times at very different parts of the Camino!
Ben soon arrived but it was getting late, so we made plans to meet in the same town and stay in the same albergue the next day.
Day 15: I headed out and 20 minutes into the walk, I saw Erika standing on the side of the road talking to two Brazilian friends. These were friends she met on her first day of the Camino weeks before and hadn’t seen since, and they were heading home that day. Camino criss-crossing again. Erika’s Brazilian friend taking her picture.
We made it about 20 more minutes down the road when we ran into Joe from Germany! He had been in Burgos as well, but my email reply had gone into his spam folder, so we didn’t connect, but we found him anyway.
We all carried on together, and Joe decided to join us in the same albergue in the town Hornillos de Camino.
Views along the way:
We stopped in a church, and a lovely nun gave us blessings and
necklaces of a saint who would protect us on the Camino and in
We stopped for food and we all took our shoes off to air out our feet. When I put mine back on, my big toe on my right foot was really hurting. Joe gave me a gel plaster to put on it, and we carried on, but about 20 minutes down the road, I was severely limping and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep going. Erika lent me her sandals, since my big toe could no longer take any pressure on it at all, and I was able to make it the rest of the way, but I certainly wasn’t making any fashion statement with my wrapped toes in oversized shoes.
We made it to our albergue, I unwrapped my toes, took a shower, and I met everyone on the back patio. Joe looked at my big toe and said, “I think you have a chicken-eye.” I handed him my phone and asked him to use Google Translate for the German word he was translating into English. He put the word in and it came back “corn.” What kind of old-timey affliction had the Camino given me?? I suddenly had turned from almost 50 to nearly 100! My toe hurt so badly. When I even lightly touched it, it sent shoots of pain throughout my entire body, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to put an enclosed shoe on it again anytime soon. I knew I needed to buy Tevas, the rugged sport sandal that I could hike in but would not put pressure on my toe. However, we were in a tiny village with no stores that sold shoes. My options were to take a cab back to Burgos to try to buy the shoes, or to walk the next day for about 5 hours in flip-flops to the next town that did have a shoe store. I couldn’t face going backwards after all the work it had taken to come that far, so I decided I would walk one day in flip-flops. Having made that decision, I pulled out the playing cards and Joe and I played card games and drank beers until we all went to dinner.
The Germans joked that hanging out with them, I had been Germanized and would soon be like them with the socks and sandals look.
Day 16: Things started out great. I left town on my own as Joe had left earlier that morning to cover more miles that day, and Erica was having stomach problems, so she and Ben were walking a lot more slowly behind. I started off for the first several hours listening to an audible book, but soon as I was passing two guys, they started talking to me in English, so I put away my headphones and I met David from Israel and Mason from San Jose. David soon stopped to adjust his pack, and Mason and I carried on and chatted all the rest of the day to the town we both happened to be staying in Castrojeriz. Mason was the first person I had met who lived the closest to SF. He was a super interesting guy who had been in the Navy and had served on a submarine for four years and he said for 85% of the time he was under water. We talked about all kinds of things from Sci-Fi movies and TV shows to relationships and he gave some very interesting insights into young people, he was 28, dating in the online swiping right and left era.
The weather was getting a bit warm, but again the surroundings were beautiful.
Everything had been going good all day with my flip-flops, but in the last hour I was feeling severe pain. I had worn these same shoes while traveling a lot and had walked at least 5-6 hours or more for many days and even more recently when I went to Rio de Janeiro in February a few months before. Since it was summer in Brazil, I pretty much lived in these flip flops for 2 weeks. However, I think the dusty and rocky terrain of the Camino, was having a different effect.
I stopped and slid my shoes off and saw that between my toes was getting raw, and I had blisters on the bottoms of my feet on the top pads of each foot and on the heels. Mason had a leg cramp, and we both pretty much limped into town.
I found a shop that sold Tevas and bought a pair, but felt worried that even with the different shoes, my feet would hurt too much to walk a full day again. I asked about a bus, but the only bus came the next day at 6:30 p.m. I didn’t want to waste a whole day, so I decided I would walk again and hopefully my feet would be better, chicken-eye and all.
I settled into my albergue and at 7:30 p.m. went to the Pilgrim’s dinner. There was a long table of us and everyone was very friendly and having fun.
Across from me was a woman from Texas, Deah, who had also been in
my albergue the night before. We got to talking about travel
and so far, the typical Pilgrim I had met was also an avid
traveler, but Deah beat all records! She was in her early 40s
and had already been to 122 countries! Amazing. She had been
to not only an incredible list of places but places I wouldn’t
even think one could go to like North Korea. She gave me the
link to her travel blog to check out: https://palmtreemusings.com/about-2/.
Afterwards, we went down underneath where we were eating into a subterranean ancient wine cellar. Our host gave us a tour and we got to taste the wine made there.
Afterwards, David, the Israeli, and I each bought a bottle to share with the group and we all chatted and hung out back upstairs until 10pm when it was time for lights out.
I’m a mess from the ankles down. Today was definitely my absolutely worst day on the Camino. I started off today by putting Band-Aids on all the blisters on my feet that I got from having to walk yesterday in the flip flops since I couldn’t wear my hiking shoes due to my painful big toe. I covered all the blisters and the pads of each foot, which were still incredibly sore, with kinesiology tape, which is a stretchy breathable tape. I put on my double layer socks and my Tevas, and headed out.
The day before was the warmest day so far on the Camino and this next day was one of the coldest with only the day I went over the Pyrenees being colder. As I walked out of the town, I was hoping the symbols I saw on the side of the church were not indicative of how my day was going to be.
The day started out with a long flat stretch, and the cold wind was blowing so hard that despite headphones that fit snuggly inside my ears, I could barely hear my audible book. With the wind, the temperatures were probably in the 40s. I could have tried to distract myself by chatting with another Pilgrim, but my feet were already so sore that I knew I was going to be poor company. It had also rained the night before, so the ground was quite wet and muddy in places which was not ideal for somebody walking in socks and sandals. The weather forecast also said that it should be starting to rain around 11 a.m. that morning. Also not ideal for somebody walking in socks and sandals.
As I walked, the mud was caking on the bottom of my shoes and some chunks of mud were flipping up into the backs of my sandals, so I had to stop occasionally and clean out the mud from my sandals.
After a long flat part came a monster hill. At least it warmed me up as I hiked up it, but the wind increased and I was grateful for my multiple layers of clothing and my gloves, and my feet were even staying warm, increasingly sore, but at least warm. As I climbed, the views were stunning.
As I walked down the backside of the mountain I just climbed, my feet were really causing me a lot of concern. I was feeling pain with every single step. I stopped a few times and sat on the side of the road, and took the sandals and socks off to inspect my feet, but they were covered in tape, so I couldn’t really see if things were worsening or not, but I could see the growing bulges of filling blisters. As I sat there, a few very kind Pilgrims paused and asked if they could help. I thanked them but really nothing short of them carrying me into the next town would help. I knew I had no choice but to keep going.
After about two and a half hours, I left the Burgos region and entered the Palencia region.
After what felt like an eternity, I reached a small town and there was a restaurant, so I decided to stop and have a meal and rest my feet. I ordered a delicious breakfast and it managed to lift my spirits for a little while.
I also chatted with a couple of other Pilgrims who were also suffering their own aches, pains and blisters. A funny thing about the Camino is that a lot of the conversation centers around feet. It is perfectly socially acceptable to kick your shoes and socks off under the table during a meal and even show other Pilgrims the problems you’re having. A Brazilian guy showed me how both his feet up to the sock line were red, swollen and covered in rash; he thought it might be an allergic reaction to wool socks, sweat and laundry soap. An Italian guy recently showed me his 3 toenails that had turned black from the walk. Losing toenails is a battle wound I wanted to avoid. But really, everyone in one form or another was in the same boat so who was I to complain.
Soon it was time to hit the road again and it hadn’t started raining yet, so I was hoping to get to the next town before that happened. But before I did, I decided to take another look at my feet and I saw that between my toes was a huge open sore from where the flip flops had rubbed away the skin. Any future hopes of becoming a foot model had definitely been dashed :).
Sorry to include gross feet pictures here, but this would not be an honest blog about the Camino without them.
As I left, I knew I had 9 kilometers left (5.6 miles) to walk to the next town I was staying in which would probably take another 2 hours, but maybe more because of my slow, shuffling and painful steps. There would be no towns between the town I was leaving and the town I was heading to, so no possibility of giving up and hailing a taxi or any other such rescue.
As I carried on, I was trying to concentrate harder and harder on the book I was listening to, so I could forget about all the pain I was feeling. Every single step hurt and I could feel the blisters growing. I was really getting into a dark and miserable place. At one point, I took out my phone and turned on the GPS to see how much time remained. Another hour. It might as well have been 10. The road stretched out endlessly in front of me.
As I slogged along, I kept checking my phone feeling like a lot of time had passed, but each time it had just been minutes. I was torturing myself. Finally I decided my feet hurt if I walked slow and my feet hurt when I walked fast, so why didn’t I just run? I had sent my big pack ahead that day because I knew my feet wouldn’t be able to take the extra weight, so all I had was my day pack and my walking stick. So I switched my audible book to music, and I started to run.
used to jog regularly and even though it had been years since
I ran, I fell quickly into my old comfortable jogging rhythm.
I started to cover ground a lot more quickly, and my feet
actually started to get a little bit numb and less painful. I
came up on and startled two pilgrims as I went jogging past,
and I just gave them a big smile over my shoulder.
Through alternating between jogging and power walking, I startled another pair of Korean Pilgrims I’d met before as I sped-walked past and one of the young guys just smiled and said, “Oooh, fast.” Soon I closed the distance to the next town and checked into a nice hotel for $40. I had even gotten there before my backpack which arrived a half an hour later. I asked the guy at the front desk for a room with a tub to soak my feet, but he said none of the rooms had tubs, so like a good Pilgrim, I made due.
I really enjoyed my hotel room the day before and stayed off my
feet as much as I could. For dinner, I limped over to the
albergue next door and had a Pilgrim’s dinner of lentil soup,
chicken, green salad and wine. I ran into David, the Spaniard
I had met a few days back, as well as the Brazilian woman I
met in Logroño who had fallen out of the bunk bed. I didn’t
see her Spanish Camino-boyfriend, so perhaps they had parted
ways. She and I were the only non-Spaniards in the room of
about 15 people. I was really tired after my day of extreme
foot pain and found myself surrounded on all sides by
When I woke up, of course the first thing I did was to check my feet. Only 2 of the 7 blisters had refilled, so I drained them and the rest looked on the mend. I stood up and both my feet felt incredibly tender; I could feel all the individual hot spots. The good news was that after soaking my feet and not putting pressure on the “chicken eye” on my big toe for a few days, the extreme soreness there at least had subsided, and I was able to file the thing off…adios chicken eye! I was glad I was using another “skip” day and would make up the miles in the end when I walked the extra 3 days to Finnesterre. I really had no choice; I was limping on both feet.
I hobbled next door to the albergue to get breakfast and there was my German friend Ben. He said he and Erika had taken a taxi there from Boadilla del Camino because she was still really sick. She had been throwing up for 2 days, couldn’t keep anything down, and was not getting better, so they planned to taxi to the next biggest town (not the same one I was going to) to get her to a doctor. I gave him a big hug, wished them luck, and said to please keep me posted and that I hoped Erika got better soon. The Camino was kicking all our asses.
The taxi arrived and I sat in the front seat. It had been so long since I was in a front seat of a car that it felt like we were going really fast! It was making me a little car sick, so instead I focused on playing some games on my phone and ignored the scenery whizzing by. They dropped me at the bus station, and I had to carry by big pack on my incredibly sore sore feet. I finally arrived and of course there were no buses to the town I wanted to go to. The agent told me that I needed to take a train, so I had to walk about 10 minutes to that station. Uttering a very long string of cuss words helped get me from point A to point B. The train I needed was in 4 hours, so I happily parked myself in the train station cafe and chilled.
My train finally arrived and I made it to a little town called Sahagún. I checked into my hostal and got some laundry done. At 6:30pm, I walked 5 minutes down to the main plaza in search of dinner, but everything looked closed. I stopped in at one bar-restaurant and asked after dinner and because Spaniards eat at 9-10pm, the guy said the kitchen didn’t open for a while and didn’t know of any other restaurants in town that did…in the whole town! I left and my feet were still in such rough shape that I didn’t want to explore much further, so I headed back to my hostal and snapped some pics as I walked.
way, I saw another bar-restaurant down a side street so
stopped in. The guy said the kitchen would open in about an
hour, so I said I would stay and ordered a beer. Soon two
20-somethgings came in with the tell-tale signs of the Camino
Pilgrim: quick-dry pants that zipped off at the knee, hiking
shoes, and they were trying to talk to the guy behind the bar
in English. I told the bartender in Spanish that if he needed
any help translating, I was happy to help. With a look of
relief, he came over, handed me the menu and asked me to
translate it for them.
We had a typical Spanish dinner, a menú del día which is one set price for three courses: a lighter appetizer like a soup, salad or pasta, and a second main course, usually chicken, pork loin, or a thin cut of steak, all usually served with fries, and a dessert, usually ice cream, a fruit cup, rice pudding or flan. The owner’s adorable daughter clearly had picked the ice cream and wandered around the restaurant as the locals started coming in for drinks at the bar.
After dinner and as we left the restaurant, the main plaza, which was deserted before, was starting to fill up as it was Saturday night.
As I was heading up the street to go to my room, a full band was walking past me and already starting to tune up. As I settled into bed, I could hear the band playing, people in the plaza talking and laughing, and someone was even setting off some fireworks. Normally I would go out and join the fun, but my feet were most definitely hindering that fun. I had planned a shorter walk for the next day, about three to four hours, and I sure hoped my feet were up for it. It had only been a day, but I already missed the Camino.
woke up at 2am, and I could still hear some revelers in the
town square, but I just laid in bed thinking about my feet.
They weren’t touching anything and yet they still had a tender
bruised feeling. I had a dilemma: if I walked 3 or 4 hours the
next day, I might make the problem worse, and I still had 18
days of walking ahead of me. The town I was in marked the
halfway point, 250 miles out of 500, of the Camino. You could
even get a halfway Compostela certificate in this town. I had
already walked about 200 miles and with the added three days
walking to Finisterre that would give me another 55, so I was
still on track of reaching my 500-mile goal with the right
amount of days to do it in. However, if I couldn’t walk the
next day, it would mess everything up. Trying to do it
sleepless certainly wouldn’t help the matter, so I rolled over
and went back to sleep. In the morning my right foot was
actually feeling pretty fine and not all that tender, but my
left foot felt very sore still.
I put on my stylish socks and Tevas, and hit the road.
The first hour was rough and my left foot was really hurting. I kept trying not to favor it as limping was just going to make my legs and back sore too. But I guess I wasn’t totally successful as a Pilgrim walking past me, pointed at my left foot and said in very accented English, “Blisters.” I smiled and nodded.
A little further along, I met a young guy also walking slowly. I didn’t need to point at his feet and say “blisters” as I already knew. He was Stephan, a 21 year old German guy on a year break from his studies. He had huge angry-looking blisters on the backs of both of his heels.
We chatted for an hour and it helped me take my mind off my foot issues. I told him the name of the town I was heading too, and he said the Camino had branched into 2 parts earlier, and I had needed to take the other branch. Great. I turned on my GPS, said goodbye, and cut across towards my targeted town. I walked on a wide dirt road completely alone for about a half an hour. I felt so untethered as there were no yellow arrows to follow. I pleaded, “GPS please don’t fail me now!”
Soon I saw a crossroad ahead in the distance and the welcome sight of two Pilgrims walking along it. One stopped and was waving. It was Doug and his wife Shelly who Will and I had run into multiple times during the first 4 days of walking (2 weeks ago at that point), but they were such fast walkers that I hadn’t seen them since. They greeted me with big hugs, and we chatted and caught up all the rest of the way to the town we all happened to be staying in called Calzadilla de los Hermanillos.
The scenery was browner with more tilled fields, but the skies were clear and the air nice and crisp, a welcome relief since there were long stretches with no tree cover.
Oh and Doug, a Camino superman, had been stopping every mile from the beginning of the Camino to do 5 push-ups, which turned to 20 push-ups every mile, which turned to 30 push-ups every mile, with the goal of doing 100 when he reached Santiago! Mind you, this was while wearing his full pack.
The guy was 7 years older than me, so I really had no room to complain about my sore feet!
Soon we arrived in town and they rushed off to secure beds in an albergue. As we got closer to Santiago, it was getting increasingly hard to find albergues that weren’t already full.
Luckily I had a working phone with an international plan and the ability to book on the phone in Spanish, so I had been booking one day ahead. I arrived at my albergue, which was fully booked, so I was very thankful for my reservation, and had the welcome sight of a room with just 4 beds, no bunk beds, outlets next to each bed, sheets and blankets and even towels! It’s funny how your definitions of comfort shift.
I was sharing with 3 guys in their 60s: 2 lovely brothers from Barcelona, Manuel and Umberto, and a really sweet man Brian from Edinburgh. The brothers spoke no English and Brian no Spanish, so it was time to play language bridge again :). I actually was loving it. It made me feel really useful and plus my rusty Spanish was really coming back. Both my feet were really hurting again but my communicating was on point :).
My feet were so sore, my left really bad, so I took to my bed to rest, wrote this blog, and streamed Friends on Netflix until the Pilgrim’s dinner, the first TV I’d watched in over 3 weeks. The brothers from Barcelona were so sweet! They kept checking on me and even took out their own foot first aid kit and had me swab iodine on the swollen bumps where the blisters were. I had already booked at the next town, about a 5-6 hour walk the next day, so I was really hoping my feet would quit being jerks.
dinnertime came, I went into the dining room and saw the two
brothers from Barcelona I was sharing a room with. They
told me that so far they had not met a lot of Spaniards on the
Camino (it was more common for Spaniards to take vacation in
June and it was still May). They said that they often
felt like strangers in their own country and during the
Pilgrim's dinners, they often just talked to each other since
they didn't speak or understand English. I told them I'd help
them, so we joined a German couple, Andreas and Chris, who
spoke German and English but no Spanish. It was language
talking so long that we were the last Pilgrims to leave the
dining room that night!
When I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room that night, my feet were still surprisingly sore. I’d stayed off then all day, but they hardly felt improved. The bumps where my blisters were on the pad of my left foot were particularly tender and looked red and swollen. I was starting to worry they might be infected. As I went to sleep, I decided if they weren’t a lot better by morning, I’d have to stay in that small village another night and then just do bigger walk days going forward to make up for the lost time.
When I woke up, the right foot seemed much better but the left
still hurt. I didn’t mind walking with pain at this point, but
I didn’t want to put my foot out of commission with 3 weeks of
walking still ahead of me. Brian, the nice Scottish guy, said
that this wouldn’t be much of a town to do a rest day in. He
said if I could, I should push on 2 more days to León, which
was a much bigger and more interesting city. The main concern
was that the first stretch of that day’s walk was 17
kilometers (10.5 miles) with no towns at all. Not good if I
got into trouble.
It took me an extra 30 minutes in foot care and wrapping, so I was the very last Pilgrim out of the albergue leaving at 8am. I walked alone for the first hour, and it was the first time I had to walk along a 2-lane highway for an extended time. It wasn’t fun. There was a narrow 12-inch dirt shoulder to walk on with cars whizzing by. Luckily, they would often cross into the other lane to give the walkers more room, but it still felt dangerous.
Finally, I could see that the Camino turned onto a dirt path away from the highway up ahead and some Pilgrims got out of a taxi. I couldn’t blame them for skipping the hour roadside walk.
I was very happy to return to a quiet nature walk without breathing car exhaust. This area was called La Meseta which is a dry, flat more desert-like region with some arid farmland.
Soon an Aussie couple caught up to me, and my left foot was actually feeling pretty good, so I picked up my pace and chatted with them for awhile. They said that they lived on a farm in southeastern Australian with a landscape much like this and that the Meseta had been their favorite part by far. After an hour, we came to a clump of trees and they said they were going for a pee, so I walked on and went back to listening to my book.
A little further along another guy was coming fast up behind me, so I looked up and it was Ruben from Portugal! I had walked with him and the Dutch guy Haen several weeks back and hadn’t seen him since.
criss-crossing again! We filled each other in on some
highlights since we last saw each other, shared Camino
stories, and I found out that Ruben had a Masters in
linguistics and spoke Spanish, French, Italian, of course
Portuguese, and had studied German and Arabic. He was the holy
grail of Camino language bridging! He had been doing not only
a lot of translating but had also got to talk to and meet an
even wider range of people with many of the language barriers
Then I went inside to use the bathroom and there was Ana, the Venezuelan woman who lives in Switzerland, who Will and I had walked with on days 3 and 4 of the Camino.
Camino reunions everywhere! I had a little over an hour left to walk to the next town and Ana was staying there too, so we all walked together. On the way, Ruben ran into some friends he’d been walking with before: Robbie from New Zealand and Moose from Australia who said his daughter was also named Rachel and that his son was a huge 49ers fan.
really interesting and told me all about the native peoples,
the Maori, in his country of New Zealand. Moose and Ruben were
walking behind us in conversation, so I translated what Robbie
was saying for Ana. As Robbie told us about his Maori culture,
I commented on how the Camino was like traveling to many
different countries while you walked through a single one.
Robbie agreed and said what a special and unexpected
experience the Camino had been for him so far. He said that
each night he would sit down with people he didn't know and
yet no one was a stranger and everyone a potential friend. He
commented on how on the Camino you sleep in the same room with
people, share food with them, brush your teeth next to them in
the bathroom, and you really see how little difference there
is between us. He said that here you learn the true meaning of
Now I’m headed to meet the brothers from Barcelona and maybe reunite with more Camino friends because you never know!
got my Camino groove back! Or at least I thought so for half a
day. The Camino giveth and the Camino taketh away. When I
walked the day before, my feet felt pretty good. I arrived at
my albergue, showered, and stayed off my feet for a good four
hours in my bunk. But when I got up, my feet, especially the
left one, were sore and tender again. It was hard to let them
heal when I needed to walk on them 14-15 miles every day. I
limped over to where the brothers from Barcelona were waiting
for me at a restaurant, and they were sitting with another
retired Spanish guy, Pepe, from Madrid. It looked like I
wouldn’t be doing any translating this evening and would be
instead trying to understand the conversation that was
completely in Castellano. We had a great evening, and Ana came
over and talked to us for a while as well. When I headed home
on still sore feet, I was thinking that perhaps I would walk
one more day, and then I would take a rest day in the big city
of León, but this also meant I’d need to make up the lost time
by doing some much longer days ahead which wasn’t something I
really wanted to do.
As I left town, I came across a woman about my age and I said, “I see you’re also walking in Tevas, and this is how I met Tracy from Brisbane, Australia, who I walked and talked with all the rest of the day.
Tracy was a truly amazing woman with an incredible story. She told me that she had left her emotionally abusive husband of 24 years, and even though he was from a very wealthy family, he got a team of lawyers to make it look like on paper as if he did not have a lot of money, so he was able to take the majority of their assets leaving her homeless and having to move in with her mother. Her mother was also an emotionally abusive person and blamed her for being in the situation she was now in which led to a falling out between them, so Tracy moved out of there as well and now they were estranged. Tracy said she came to the realization that she had been surrounded by toxic people including a lot of the fake friends she had gained living her and her former husband's wealthy lifestyle, and these so-called friends had all turned on her when she left the marriage. Additionally, she had a high-powered and stressful job, and she realized she wasn’t happy with that either. She said that she felt as if she had lived most of her life wearing a mask and playing a role that wasn’t her. After that realization, she called her job and quit over the phone. After that, she threw her few possessions into a couple of backpacks and started traveling, and this had led her to the Camino. She said that she had been stripped down, left naked, and was now rebuilding herself. In reflecting on what drew her here, she said about herself that she was “on the Camino looking to meet me.”
I certainly was happy to meet her. As we walked, we came across this piece of forward momentum advice applicable for the Camino and life:
Other images from the day’s walk:
Luckily, I had booked in the historic city center, so after walking an hour through neighborhoods of massive apartments buildings, I arrived at my albergue which was next to a beautiful cathedral and pedestrian-only streets and plazas.
I checked into my albergue and scored a bottom bunk in a 4-person room with all women, and things were going great.
I took my shower and was settling in and chatting with one of my new very interesting bunkmates, Beatrice from Germany who was doing the Camino a second time, and she was fluent in German, of course, but also English and Spanish, as she had been living in Mexico City for the past 25 years with her Mexican husband. I was relaxing and enjoying the conversation and then…foot-tastrophy struck!
I looked down and saw I had new blisters in an entirely new location on top of my middle toes even though they weren’t even enclosed in a shoe that day!
Seriously Camino?? This meant socks and Tevas were not going to work for the next day’s walk. I was running out of options! So I pulled out my hiking shoes that had given me the blisters on the outside of my big toes that had then turned into that painful corn that then led to the flip flop fiasco that shredded my feet! So I got out my trusty scissors and did some operating.
I hoped that this would give my big toes plenty of elbow room for the next day and avoid anymore foot issues! In the meantime, Tracy had texted me to meet up for a drink and the brothers from Barcelona were meeting me later, so I put on the Tevas (without the socks) and headed out.
I met at an outdoor cafe next to León’s massive cathedral and
soon we were the Pilgrim magnet of reunion. Pepe from Madrid
showed up and brought with him Eli from Australia and Danko
from Mexico, now living in and running his own restaurant in
San Antonio, Texas. Eli and Danko had met 3 years before on
the Camino, fell in love and had been meeting up to travel and
walk different parts of the world since. They planned to marry
within the year and she was moving to join him in Texas. Then
the brothers from Barcelona joined us and Ana showed up too.
Then I looked over at the next table and there was Doug, Shelly and Mark, all people I had met on the very first day of the Camino, 19 days before.
Other Pilgrims who stopped by, and have have made an appearance in this blog, but I didn’t get pictures of that evening: David from Spain, Mason from San Jose, Brian from Scotland, a German family I hung out with in Castrojeriz, young Stephan from Germany, and Beatrice my new bunkmate from Mexico by way of Germany. It was incredible how many people I now knew all traveling the Camino. Brian from Scotland joked that a group of sheep is a flock, a group of wolves is a pack, a group of whales is a pod, so a group of Pilgrims like that evening should be called a blister of Pilgrims!
22: I awoke to the standard albergue morning sound:
the rustling of bags and the zipping and unzipping of
backpacks. It was 6am and my 3 bunkmates who were all up, were
being really nice and getting ready in the near dark with a
little light coming through the closed shutters. Usually when
you’re in a bigger dormitory room, some early rising Pilgrim
usually turns on the lights for the whole room around 6-6:30am
so this was really a sweet kindness. I told them I was up, and
to turn on the light, and I’m sure by now you know what I
looked at first…my feet! The new blisters hadn’t refilled but
were tender, so I wrapped them and tried on my newly cut and
ventilated hiking shoes. I decided I’d try a new approach:
walk the first part of the day in the hiking shoes, and then
the second half walk in the Tevas without socks. This way no
particular spots were getting bothered all day long. I packed
up and left León. As I walked out of the city center, I passed
a statue that perfectly captured how I had felt with my
traitorous big toe! I didn't know the statue's origins
or background, but the man's pained face, contorted body, and
focus on the foot was something every Pilgrim could relate
to. The Camino was NOT easy on the body or feet.
Goodbye big city!
Just as I was leaving the city, I was lost in thought and suddenly wandered off the Camino path and couldn’t find my next yellow arrow. I back-tracked a block and met Kiko from Israel and Nahuel from Argentina, both in their late 20s. I walked with them for the next 2 hours, and they were very curious about life in San Francisco. They had heard the city was expensive, so I confirmed it by telling them that I recently saw an article where the average one-bedroom now rents for $3500/month (this is an average rent, not what everyone pays). They were shocked. They asked me if I rented or owned, and I told them I was lucky to have bought a duplex with friends in 2002, but it took over a year of actively looking and we put in over 10 offers on different places getting repeatedly outbid. A few years after buying the building, we converted it to condo (each now having separate mortgages), and then 10 years later, my friends moved north to Fairfax to raise their daughter and sold their 2-bedroom flat for what we paid for the entire building. Again shock. They asked how anyone could afford living there, and I said that many shared apartments and rent control helped keep those rents down. Next, they said that they heard that a lot of people in SF are poly (polyamorous meaning people being in multiple committed relationships at once). I laughed and said, it did seem to have become more common. I told them I had a very big group of friends having lived in SF for 23 years, but I only knew about 5 people who were poly. I told them I wasn’t and that managing one relationship was hard enough, and I was recently divorced. Nahuel said, “I have enough trouble managing one girlfriend!”
Then Kiko, who had been a lot quieter and less animated than Nahuel, said he had just had his heart-broken. He said he met a girl on the Camino and they had spent the last 2 and a half weeks together walking the Camino and were together 24/7. He said it was intense and he had fallen in love. Then two days before, she had broken things off, and he said we had actually walked past her sitting at a cafe thirty minutes before. Poor guy. I told him I was sorry to hear it but I liked what Woody Allen once said that “the heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.” I said it didn’t feel like it now, but time really does heal.
Just then we came to a crossroads, and I’m being literal here, not metaphorical :). The Camino split again as it had a few days before. You could go left and take a path that was away from the main road but it was 7 kilometers (4.35 miles) longer or an extra hour and a half. Or you could go right, walk less, but walk on a path that ran parallel to the highway all day. My recovering feet chose right and the young guys chose left :).
I walked on and up ahead I saw Ana from Uruguay waving at me. I ran to catch up, and I walked the rest of the day with this lovely woman chatting in Spanish the entire time. The path did run parallel to the highway the entire time, but we didn’t have to ever walk on the actual road, so it was fine.
There was still some beautiful scenery, and more Camino wisdom.
Ana saw the message and said “Vamos,” and I told her the difference between “Let’s go” and “Let it go.” She laughed and said, “No hacemos las dos en el Camino?” Don’t we do both on the Camino?
We arrived in the town Villadangos del Páramo, had lunch, and then I got a room in a hostel, and Ana pushed on another hour to the next town.
298 kilometers to Santiago. Vamos!
Day 23: I had a pretty good foot day, so perhaps this means for the poor people reading this blog that you will not have to see any more tattered foot pictures :). Fingers and toes crossed!
I started the day walking by myself along a very loooooong stretch of road next to the highway. It wasn’t very scenic, so I put my headphones in and listened to a book. It wasn’t until I reached the town of Hospital de Orbigo that things got easier on the eyes again. The entrance to the town was over a long medieval bridge made of stones. There was even a jousting arena on the left and the guidebook said they have jousting competitions in June.
As I walked through the town, I wished I had stayed there instead as it was much more historic than the previous town I had stayed in that had a busy highway running past the room I slept in.
As I left the town, I came again to a spilt in the Camino where you could go left and walk along the highway (the slightly shorter route), or go right and enjoy the scenic rural countryside. At these crossroads is where I met Kathryn, a really lovely woman from New Zealand. I asked if I was correct about what was in each direction, she confirmed, and we both headed right. It was worth every extra step.
After several days of walking along or in view of the highway, it
really made me appreciate being back in nature with no cars in
We were out in farmland, so the only vehicles we saw were tractors.
Kathryn grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand, so greeted the cows like old friends, “Hello ladies!”
We talked about a lot of things, conversation flowed easily, and she told me what led her to the Camino. She worked in a field of different forms of spiritual healing that focus on connections between the mind and body, and that this had helped some of her own healing of chronic back pain. She had had such problems with mobility that being able to park her car nearby started to determine if she would go to a place or not. She said that this had caused her world to increasingly shrink. She told me that her Camino started 18 months before as she started reading books about people’s Camino experiences; also during that time she had been mentally preparing to take on such a physically daunting challenge. She’d been walking the Camino a few weeks longer than me, and was dealing with pain as well as a Camino-acquired open foot wound that developed from a bad blister, but she was still going and taking rest and recovery days when needed. You would never know it as she walked at a regular pace, was carrying her full pack, and was very positive and funny. I enjoyed her company immensely, and she felt like someone who I would hang out with back home. She remarked that she had actually ended up walking with quite a few Californians.
As we talked, we also were paying attention to and commenting on our beautiful surroundings.
Over three weeks of walking, and I was slowing down, learning what it means to be completely in the present, and I was finally taking the time to stop and smell the roses :).
I didn’t regret for a second turning right at that crossroad.
It also turned out that Kathryn was a talented singer-songwriter, and as I write this, I’m listening to her album on Spotify: http://www.notalltheleavesarefalling.com. We reached the town she was staying in, we friended each other on Facebook, and I headed to the next town. Here was another Pilgrim I would truly love to run into again.
I walked by myself to Astorga, a city on a hill surrounded in its interiors by a medieval wall.
I was headed to a new hostel that was run by a Brazilian family.
I had just been to Rio de Janeiro 3 months before in February
as one of my good friends Kim had gotten engaged to a Carioca,
a native of Rio. So I was interested in reconnecting with that
culture, and also I like Spanish food, but there’s not a lot
of variety in the cuisine. I was really excited about a change
of pace and some yummy Brazilian cuisine for the Pilgrim’s
dinner. Of course, after a long day of walking and tired feet
and hips, on the last stretch, I was confronted with a
looooong set of stairs. My kingdom for an escalator!
I got slightly lost as the hostel wasn’t on the actual Camino (how am I going to go back to real life with no yellow markers guiding me?) when a teenaged guy met me on the street and with Brazilian accented English asked if I were looking for the Brazilian hostel. Um, obrigada, yes I was! He led me to what was his family's actual house with a large dormitory room on the top floor with 10 beds.
Then 4 of us who were staying there joined for a delicious home cooked Brazilian dinner!
At dinner, I got to meet a man who was born in Korea but when he was 9 his family moved to São Paulo, Brazil and he was fluent in Portuguese, English, Italian, and Spanish, but he said he was embarrassed he didn’t speak Korean very well. Yeah, what a slouch with only being fluent in 4 languages! Also at dinner was the most friendly couple from the Netherlands, Johan and Annette, who had taken 2 months of unpaid leave from their jobs to fulfill their Camino dream.
It felt nice being in a home, and while we ate, the family hung out watching some TV while the kids were with their friends talking and playing music and videos on a laptop.
It was interesting to see a different home life, and it reminded
me of something Kathryn had said earlier that day. She said
that on the Camino each night you slept in a different city
and in different bed, so there was no real sense of home, so
home became something that you carried inside you. Maybe
that’s why I haven’t felt particularly homesick so far. I feel
my friends and family along with me here.
Day 24: I headed out of the city of Astorga in the morning, and I wasn’t too far down the road when I saw Tracy walking ahead of me with another person. I caught up, said hello, gave her a big hug, and she introduced me to Harry from Belgium. He commented that I was walking too fast, and laughingly said to slow it down. I obliged, and he said he began the Camino feeling like he needed to cover a lot of distance each day and quickly. When he’d hear someone coming up behind him, it triggered something competitive in him and he’d pour on more speed. After a week, this led to him pulling muscles in his left leg so badly, he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to continue. Instead he carried on but slowed way down. When he did, he spent most his walking days now meeting and chatting with other people. Harry told us that he had originally imagined his Camino would be a completely solitary walk where he would look inward and come to know himself better. However, he said that now that he slowed down and came more and more out of his own shell, he said he was finding that “life is meaningless without the others.”
As, we walked, we met Jisoo and she and I started chatting. I said, “From your accent I’m guessing you’re from where I’m from,” and she said, “Korea?” I laughed and said no, and that I thought she was from the U. S. She told me she had grown up in Indonesia and now lived in Korea. But her English was flawless, she had a perfect American accent, she knew slang and even said “Hella,” which is slang specific to the Bay Area, as in, “The Camino is hella hard to walk with busted feet!” It turned out she had gone to International school in Indonesia, had studied in Washington D. C. and the Bay Area, and mainly read and wrote in English. It was fun to talk to her and hear her 20-something perspective on the Camino which you can imagine involved more partying than the average Pilgrim.
We all stopped for a drink and rest in the next village, but Jisoo moved on quickly as she was on a tight schedule and had only so many days left to get to Santiago.
I carried on with Tracy and Harry and even though my feet finally felt so great that I could practically skip down the Camino, I matched their leisurely pace and drank in the beautiful surroundings.
We stopped in a village with a funky looking cowboy bar and got ice creams.
A young guy came up to me, handed me an actual professional looking camera (I hadn’t seen one of those in a while), and in accented Spanish asked me to take his picture in front of the bar, and this is how I met Mateo from Italy.
There were quite a few Italians on the Camino, but usually they were traveling in groups and he was by himself. Also, so far I had met only a couple of Italians who could speak English or Spanish, so I hadn’t had many conversations with anybody from that country. Mateo didn’t speak English, but he had recently started studying Spanish, so for the next two hours, we were able to communicate using both of our second languages. His Spanish often had Italian sounding endings or inflections to the words, but I could understand him perfectly. Mateo was 28 years old, from Florence, had studied to be a lawyer, and was now studying to be a judge. I told him that in my country you had to practice as a lawyer for quite a long time before you could become a judge, and he said in Italy the system was different. He had been studying in his field for 8 years, and was on a brief break between courses, and since he knew he wouldn’t be able to take much vacation in the future in his profession, he had decided to do the Camino now. We walked and talked for several hours. Then we came to the small village I was staying in called Rabanal. He was pushing on one more hour to the next town, but as he left, he was wincing as one of his knees had really started to hurt. The Camino is hard for the old and young! I wished him luck, we got one more pic and off he went.
I settled into my albergue and was grateful for a single top bunk this time because in this albergue, there were many bunk beds pushed together! Now I didn’t mind sharing a room with 14-16 people I’d just met, but side-by-sied was too close for comfort!
I took a shower and was settling into my bunk to write about my day when I got a text from Tracy that she and Harry were up the road at a restaurant drinking wine with two Spaniards, and said to come join. Keeping up with writing about what happened each day on the Camino had been a challenge especially because I was writing everything on my phone! Sometimes I could use voice to text, but when there were people in the room, I didn’t want to be rude, so more often than not, I was writing everything with one finger using swipe-text. Needless to say, this takes several hours or more a day, but I also didn’t want to miss out on Camino experiences because I was trying to write about them! So I gave my swyping finger a rest that day and headed out. I was halfway up the street when I came across a cluster of Pilgrims. As I got closer I realized I knew every single one: Kathryn who I had walked with the day before, Brian from Scotland who I’d run into several times, and Lorcan, the Irish guy who Will and I had met on Days 1 & 2!
They were headed to get smoothies, but they said there was a well-known Pilgrim’s mass in this village at 7pm that evening that began with a Gregorian chant. I said I’d see them there and continued up the hill. I found Tracy and Harry and then got to meet Tino from Galicia and Jesús from La Rioja.
Neither of the Spaniards spoke a word of English, and Harry spoke four languages but Spanish wasn’t one of them, and Tracy didn’t speak Spanish, so I have no idea how they had all been communicating before I got there, but they were cheersing and laughing when I arrived. I got to chatting with Jesús and it turned out that he had a sad but inspiring story. He had ridden this Camino 9 times by bike and had walked the entire thing 4 times. He worked in agriculture, and one day he got stung by a wasp and had a severe allergic reaction to where he almost died. He said for the past 5 years, he had had to get monthly medical treatment, and it had so severely impacted his health that he could only now do the Camino in small segments, and that the next day was his last day before heading home. I asked if it were dangerous for him to be here, and he said he had an epinephrine autoinjector, or EpiPen, on him at all times in case of anaphylaxis because before his tongue and throat swelled so much from the sting that he almost suffocated. He said if he gets stung again, he would use the Epipen and call emergency services immediately. However, as noted by the many crosses and markers all along the Camino, we walk through some pretty remote places, many inaccessible by car, so many have died before medical personnel could reach them. I asked him why he would risk himself, but he said what is life if you let fear stop you from doing what you love.
We all chatted and laughed some more and then we carried onto a lovely outdoor area and there was Claude from Canada and Michele from France. More members of my ever-growing Camino family.
As it got later, Tracy, Harry and I headed out to get dinner and somehow we acquired more Pilgrims :).
We barely finished before 7pm and rushed to the church and we were greeted with another stunningly streaked sky that was again reminiscent of the scallop shell, the symbol that marks the Camino.
Inside, the church was already full of Pilgrims. As we sat down, the monks began to sing the beautiful and ancient sounding Gregorian chant and the priest delivered mass in English.
Although I’m more spiritual than religious, it was a good reminder of the origins of the Camino I was walking.
started the walk this day with a video to help convey the feeling of what it is like to walk the Camino:
I knew that I wanted to walk that day entirely by myself. As I
walked, I came across Pilgrims I knew: Kathryn first, then
later Brian, so I said hi but quickly moved on. As the rise
got steeper I came across Tino and Jesús. I stopped to say
hello and gave them each a doble beso (the traditional Spanish
greeting of a kiss on each cheek), but then I kept on at a
fast pace and Tino called out after me, “Estás muy fuerte” as
I booked up the hill. I wanted to be alone, except Susana was
with me the whole time.
I share this and the post I wrote below after her passing to keep her memory alive and to share that there once was an amazing person named Susana Ramírez Jimenez and I loved her very much.
April 13, 2018 at 10:37 PM
I met you when Shelagh and I first moved to Madrid in 1995. It was one of those friendships where I felt like we had always known each other, and we were just picking up where we had last left off. I know that you rarely find that kind of friendship chemistry. I’m sorry after several years that fucking cancer won, I’m sorry you had to suffer through all those treatments, I’m sorry that you didn’t even get to see 50 while you still looked 30, I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you yesterday. You were so much in such a small package…wicked smart, so goddamn funny, beautiful with a daring, colorful fashion sense I always envied. When I saw you last in Madrid two years ago this month, even in the midst of chemo you were still a beautiful badass. I love you Chati and time and distance never diminished that. Now that you’re not here anymore, so hard to wrap my head around that, you will always be with me. The world is a poorer place without you in it.
When I got to the Iron Cross, I climbed the hill of stones people had carried with them from all over the world, and I laid my tribute next to a rock painted with a heart that someone else had left.
I walked down the hill wiping my cheeks but feeling lighter. I continued on alone the rest of the day appreciating the colorful riot of the spring flowers.
I came down into the village of El Acebo where I am now. This albergue is quite new and has a spa, so I think I’m going to indulge in my first Camino massage in appreciation of and extremely thankful for the healthy body and resilient feet that got me here.
Day 26: The day before, by coincidence, Tracy and Harry had both arrived at the same town and chose to stay in the same albergue, so we had dinner together.
After dinner, I went for my massage, and it was in a very professional looking spa. This place felt more like a resort than an albergue, but at albergue prices, $15 for a bunk in a room with 8 beds and $55 for an hour massage.
thought after 25 days, I’d have a lot of tender and sore
muscles, especially my troublesome hips, but to my surprise,
there were no tender spots--none. Unbelievable. My body really
had adapted and even my feet felt great with no painful areas
at all. I watched the sunset feeling relaxed and happy.
I slept well that night and in the morning, I had breakfast with Tracy and Harry and we started out walking together.
The Camino started along the road and then turned onto a very rural path that had us walking on large sections of slabs of rock and a couple times we thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn.
But we found our occasional yellow arrows to reassure us, and the quiet and remote path was serene and beautiful.
We walked just the three of us for about an hour when we heard another Pilgrim coming up quickly behind us. When he reached us it turned out it was Kiko from Isreal! I had walked with him out of the city of León four days before, and Tracy had met him back when she had first started walking the Camino. We all walked together for a bit, but my and Kiko’s pace was a little faster, so soon Kiko and I carried on ahead together for the next 3 hours. We walked through the beautiful village of Molinaseca.
As we left the village, Kiko was very excited to come across a grove of cherry trees! They were so sweet picked right off the branch and Kiko filled his pockets with them.
As we carried on, he told me he was happy to have a much lighter backpack on this trip because before he had trekked through South America and had a backpack that was double the weight. He said he brought way too many things because of his experience in the military. It was hard to imagine this soft-spoken gentle soul was in the Israeli military in a region that had a lot of intense and on-going conflict. I knew the military was compulsory in his country, so I asked him about it. He said at 18 years old every male is required to serve a little over 3 years in the military, and women were required to serve two years. I asked if this made young people angry to have to give up those years and put themselves at such risk, and he said no, because everyone had to do it so it was normal, and also the alternative was jail. In the United States during the Vietnam War when they employed the draft and required young men to enlist to fight in the war, there had been a lot of protests and the public burning of draft cards. I didn’t think the widespread requirement of all men and women to serve multiple years in the U. S. military would go over as well.
We walked and chatted, and also had times of companionable quiet; it was a relaxing day. When we reached the large city of Ponferrada, he said he was going to stay in the municipal albergue, but they wouldn’t be letting Pilgrims in for another hour, so as we crossed a bridge over a beautiful flowing river, he gave me a hug goodbye to go read on the grass next to the river. I told him to enjoy his day and walked on into the big city!
I had lunch there and then pushed on another couple of hours to the small town of Componaraya.
I was settling into my new room with 2 bunks and 4 beds, and in came Gustavo, a Spaniard and chef from the Canary Islands who spoke no English and was absolutely hilarious. I had planned to write this blog upon arrival but instead, he and I laughed and talked for hours. We both had a silly sense of humor, but also talked about what we were learning about ourselves on the Camino and what changes we wanted to bring back to our lives back home. It’s funny, on the Camino, you often skip small talk and go to the real stuff. After a while, he called home and I went downstairs, and there was Tracy! We’d made no plans as is often the Camino way (everyone goes at his/her own pace and stops where he/she likes) and here we were together again! There are multiple cities a Pilgrim can stop in along the Camino and multiple albergues, hostels and hotels in each city, so clearly the Camino knew we enjoyed each other’s company.
We ordered a bottle of wine and got to chatting and soon Gustavo came down to join, so I played translator to bridge the communication gap and we were all soon laughing and being silly.
Day 27: I got up at 6:30am, brushed my teeth, shoved everything in my backpack as quietly as I could by the light coming in from the window (good shared-room albergue etiquette), and headed downstairs to get coffee and breakfast before hitting the road. I walked into the restaurant that was attached to the albergue and there was Tracy with her leg wrapped with a bag of ice on it. She said that when she arrived the day before, her leg was bothering her but that morning she tried to walk on it, but it hurt so badly, she had to turn around. She suspected she had shin splints at best or a stress fracture at worse. Luckily she had given herself time to do the walk, so she could take the time out to go to the doctor and recuperate, maybe even going to a nicer hotel or different city to rest, but she said that as soon as she could, she’d be right back to this same city so she could finish her Camino. I told her I’d be checking in on her and gave her a big hug goodbye. The sun was rising as I left the city.
As I headed out, I only saw one other Pilgrim, a young guy in his 20s walking out of the city, and he was walking at a blistering speed, literally. At the end of that day, 6 hours later, I passed him and he was limping. But as I walked out of the city, I was really enjoying some solitary time and for the majority of the day, I walked happily by myself. Just me and my shadow.
As I walked, I thought about a question Kiko had asked me the day before: “Who is someone you’ve met here that you hope to see again on the Camino?” My honest answer was no one, and yet at the same time, any one of them. Everyone I met had been truly amazing and I’d enjoyed my time immensely with each person, and I’d love to meet up and spend more time with any one of them, but on the Camino, I didn’t feel in a state of “want” or “need.” I wasn’t holding tightly to anything and really was just enjoying whatever the Camino brought me each day. And on this day, the Camino was bringing some breathtaking scenery in wine country.
A few hours more and the Camino spilt in two directions again. There was a shorter route along the road or I could take the longer scenic route along the hilly back roads. My feet and I felt great, so we went right. For the next few hours I only saw two other Pilgrims. It was solitary and gorgeous.
I came to the beautiful town of Villafranca tucked in a valley surrounded by mountains. I wasn’t tired or hungry, so I snapped a few pics and kept on moving.
As I left the beautiful town, the Camino split in two directions again. To the left, you could go the flat straight route along the road (these other routes are often for those doing the Camino on bicycles). The other route added 5.5 miles and was all uphill. I had looked at the map the night before and had already made my choice. I had booked in a remote albergue on the top of the mountain in the tiny town of Pradela. I started climbing. I hadn’t seen steepness like this since the first day climbing the Pyrenees. Soon the town I had just walked through was down below me.
had been pretty warm with very little tree cover. That morning
I had woken up with a snuffy nose and sore throat, and I was
pretty sure I had a low grade fever. I wasn’t alone in this.
When Gustavo had arrived at the albergue the day before, he
said he felt terrible. He had a fever for the past few days
and a cold. Tracy also had such a bad cold earlier in the
Camino that she’d had to get her own room for a week because
she was coughing all night, and she didn’t want to torture
other Pilgrims. Harry also said he had the beginnings of a
sore throat. With all this communal living, any bug could be
passed easily and quickly along the Camino, and now I
suspected I had a version of it.
I came across an older woman with short white hair who was walking slowly and looking pretty unhappy. I was walking and eating from a bag of mixed nuts, and she said in accented English “Oh yes please, can I have some? I need salt.” I gave her a big handful which she quickly ate and then I gave her another bigger handful, and she thanked me and I moved on. The views from up high we’re beautiful.
With about 45 minutes left before I reached the top, I came across another man who was dripping sweat but he gave me a big smile when I came alongside him. And this is how I met Christian from Germany. He and I started chatting and telling each other about where we were from and what day we started the Camino, but in typical Camino fashion, we shifted quickly out of small talk, and started talking about what motivated us to come to the Camino. Christian told me that he had worked in insurance, and that work had pretty much taken up his adult life. He said he worked seven days a week because even when he had the weekends off, he was always thinking about work. His wife would often ask him, “Where are you right now?” and he said he would get angry and say “I’m here of course,” but he said she was right, his mind was elsewhere. He knew he wanted to make a change, so he retired at 60, which was a few months before, and decided to go do the Camino by himself. He said after a week, one day he was walking by himself and suddenly he started to cry. He felt like he had wasted many years focusing his energy on the wrong things and not enough on his wife and daughter. He knew he couldn’t change the past, but now he knew how he was going to change the future. He said just then he walked into a small village and to his amazement written across the road it said, “Your new life begins today.”
at the albergue I was staying in, and Christian stopped for a
bit to have some fruit and water, and then he said goodbye and
I checked into the albergue. The albergue was owned and run by
a lovely woman named Ana, and she told me that I might have
the 10 bed dormitory room to myself because not a lot of
people chose to climb the mountain to Pradela. I really liked
the idea of this, but eventually more red-faced sweating
Pilgrims arrived. First two older German men arrived and they
had accidentally taken the mountain route when they meant to
take the flat road, so they were very happy to know there was
room at the albergue.
As I was sitting down and relaxing, I got a text from Gustavo who had also taken the harder road, but he meant to, and was going to stop for a beer at the top. I told him I would have one waiting for him. Again we brought out the silly side in each other.
After a bit, he carried on to the next town, and all the Germans and I gathered together for our Pilgrim’s dinner. Ana had made all the food herself and served us bean and vegetable soup, and later rice, eggs and fish. At first all five Germans were speaking German, and I felt left out. But soon Chris returned the favor of translation, and then they would also shift into English to include me which was very nice.
As we all got into our bunks and went to sleep, I stayed up a little later on my phone, always at work on the blog, my extra Camino job. As I worked, two in the group were already snoring heavily, Chris was repeatedly coughing, and there was a rooster that kept crowing. Now that I was laying down, I was feeling congested again, and my throat was still sore, so I knew I needed a good night’s sleep to fight off the bug. So I put in earplugs, took half a sleeping pill and actually slept pretty well.
Day 28: I started the day off feeling good. I was excited because that same day I would be meeting up with a friend from home. A very surreal concept. My friend Roxanne is the one who inspired me to do the Camino in the first place, and she had arrived the day before. She had done this Camino multiple times as well as other Caminos both in Spain and Japan. She was a true Camino addict, and now I totally understood why. She was actually leading a group of 18 people, and they were walking the last 100-kimometers of the Camino, and then also walking all the way to the ocean in Finisterre.
As I left that morning walking down the mountain, I came across Marge who had left earlier than I did but was taking her time going down the hill. Years before she had fallen down a manhole and broken both kneecaps, so she could only do hills very slowly. She had told me at breakfast that she was feeling proud of herself for climbing that big mountain the day before, and that her body felt very recovered even with her sore knees. She told me that she was convinced that this walk wasn’t so much of a physical challenge but a mental one. She said she was not in shape and had these injuries, but she said that if she could do it, anyone could. I really admired her spirit.
As I carried on down the hill, I felt physically fine but as soon as I got down to the flatter part, there was a steady stream of Pilgrims and I found myself feeling irritated at being part of a crowd which surprised me. As the day went on, I was feeling more fatigued and cranky. A lot of the walk in the first half of the day was along a road with cars coming up behind sounding impossibly fast. I realized I was still fighting off this sickness and it was affecting my mental attitude. I was not taking Margie’s advice! Just as I was trudging along, Gustavo came out of a nearby cafe. He told me he just had the best empanadas and coffee. When a chef tells you he just had good food, you listen. I told him I’d see him further down the Camino, and went in and ordered the same and was happy I did. It helped improve my mood.
As I carried on, the walk that day was interesting as the Camino went through a string of tiny villages all connected by the road, which now only had the occasional car, but what was really nice was that there was a river running alongside that you could always see and hear.
was feeling pretty good but still a bit rundown as I walked
through these towns. However, I knew a big long steep hill was
coming. This would be my second 6 to 6.5 hour walk day that
ended with two hours straight uphill without a lot of shade.
As I neared where the incline was soon to begin, I saw this
advertisement to the mountain-top town O'Cebreiro where I was
staying in that evening.
But I carried on on foot. And as I climbed the hill, my crankiness and tiredness was returning. It started off with some shade but the last hour, when I ran out of water incidentally, was hot, steep and exposed. I won’t lie, the last hour felt like an unhappy trudgefest.
The Camino, like life, had its ups and downs, but that day’s ups were really bringing me down :).
I finally reached the top at the town of O Cebreiro and the town was ridiculously cute. I texted my friend Roxanne, and she and the group were several hours behind me, so I checked in and the rooms Roxanne had booked were very nice with private en suite bathrooms! As I settled in, Gustavo texted that he was also staying in town, and I told him to come meet me and the big group for dinner that night. Hopefully there were some Spanish speakers in Roxanne’s massive crew!
As I waited for Roxanne, I walked across the street to where people were relaxing on a wall that showed the beautiful valley we had all just climbed up and out of.
And I joined them.
And then as I was sunning myself, Roxanne arrived! So great to see my friend. A beautiful piece of home!
had brought with her a bunch of community college
teachers...my people! This impressive group walked 12 hours
that day and walked the both mountains in one day that I had
walked in two! They only had 10 days so they were covering
some serious ground!
And some of my Camino friends joined us! Gustavo from the Canary Islands and Mateo from Italy.
And since we had just crossed over into Galicia, the 6th and last region we would walk across on the Camino, we had a delicious Gallegan soup and pulpo (octopus) for dinner. Galicia since it encompasses a region on the coast, is famous for its seafood.
At the end of the day, it was nice to blend friends from home with my Camino family. And the sunset from atop the mountain we all climbed, didn’t need any translations for all to enjoy.
Day 29: I walked with the wolf pack today. Or at least that’s what we jokingly called ourselves. My friend Roxanne, who loves doing Caminos, sent an email out to her entire college, American River College in Sacramento, saying she was doing an 11-day part of this Camino after finals and said to contact her if interested. 18 faculty and staff from her college joined her: 12 teachers, 2 partners of teachers, 2 of her friends (one who flew in from England and another who came from Tasmania), and 2 staff members who would meet them in Santiago and then walk to Finisterre. I can barely manage myself on the Camino! Since there were so many, they couldn’t all find rooms in the small mountain top town of O Cebreiro, so some stayed in the town below. So in the morning, half the group set out from O Cebreiro, and we would meet the others in the town of Triacastelo later that evening.
It was my first time, in almost a month on the Camino, walking in a group. And what a fun group. First of all, a bunch of them were community college teachers, so it was the first time since my sabbatical started in mid December that I heard words like curriculum committee, student learning outcomes, banking units, AB705, student demographics. It was so funny talking teacher talk on the Camino. It felt like a world away and yet also so familiar.
I had looked at the elevation profile of the section of the Camino we were walking that day since my last two days had ended with monster hills. What goes up must come down right? Well, not that day. I thought we were on top of the mountain and yet, up we marched as we left town.
These poor guys had done a 12-hour walk the day before (with the 2 monster hills I mentioned), and yet they walked fast and kept up an impressive pace all day. Eventually we went down some hills only to soon be going right back up. It was up and down a lot of the day.
As we walked, I got to meet a new set of awesome and inspiring people. Amanda, a fellow English teacher, was walking with an injured knee in a brace and a pacemaker. Tressa, a Political Science teacher, started running marathons in her late 30s and had since completed 11 of them. Each person I got to chat with throughout the day was friendly, engaging, and jumping right into the Camino with smiles and a positive attitude. I don’t know if I would have been able to do the same with the brutal Day 2 they had.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but this also meant hotter weather. It was now almost June and things were definitely heating up, but we still had the beautiful greenery and flowers of spring. And cows...lots of cows
We stopped in different churches and shops to get more Camino stamps in our Pilgrim’s passports and we enjoyed the day.
As we neared the end of the day’s walk, Roxanne said, “There’s my tree!” Camino friends come in all shapes and sizes.
As we ended our walk day, we celebrated by tending to the needs of our thirsty wolf pack.
Day 30: Many new Pilgrims join in the last 100 kilometers of the Camino Francés as this in the minimum you can walk and still get the Compostela certificate. Since Roxanne was traveling with a large group, and they were joining at a more popular time and location, they had pre-booked their lodgings which meant private rooms rather than dormitory-style albergues. I, however, wanted to experience as much of the Pilgrim community as possible as time seemed to be speeding up, and I was feeling quite sad this would all soon be over. I decided to stay in albergues for the rest of the walk. This also meant getting up a lot earlier. On this day, I was in a lovely albergue in Triacastelo that had wooden floors and beams and stone walls.
Albergues have their beauty and their challenges. The guy in the bunk below me got up at 5:30am and was shaking the bunk (and me) as he packed up his bag. By 6am, I decided if you can’t beat em, join em, so I got up and packed as well. Roxanne and her group were all meeting at a restaurant in town at 7 a.m. for breakfast. I got to the restaurant around 6:30 and was finishing my breakfast as some of them started rolling in. I waited for a little while, but it looked like it was going to take a bit for everyone to assemble, so I broke off from the pack and went lone wolf down the Camino. We were all staying in the same cities from there to Santiago, so I could easily find them each evening. It was a cold and crisp morning, quite the contrast to the day before, and the first hour was pretty shaded.
I came across one of the teachers and her husband who had also headed out before the group, and she was taking pictures of this crazy looking dark black slug with interesting ridges on its bottom half. So I snapped one too.
I walked a little further and saw a woman around my age walking with a guy who looked about 18. I was really interested in families who do the Camino together, so as I came alongside them, I said hello and this is how I met Lauren, a South African who had moved to Canada, and her son Luca who grew up in Vancouver. She was a former teacher who now worked on college campus in instructional design, and Luca had just finished his first year of college in Toronto and was studying to become a commercial photographer. We all walked and talked for several pleasurable hours.
out they had started the Camino the same day I had back in St.
John, France on May 1st and yet we were only just meeting now.
As we talked about our Camino experiences, it turned out we
had met a lot of the same people. They also knew Claude from
Canada who was traveling with Michelle from France. And Harry
from Belgium who I had walked with for several days with
Tracy. Harry had helped Lauren with a blister she had on her
heel and he had used a sterilized needle and popped it for
her. Only would you have this kind of criss-crossing and
foot-related intimacy on the Camino :). I asked Lauren
how she was doing now, and she said much better after they
slowed their initial walking pace. She said she learned
an important Camino lesson: if you start the Camino like a
young person, you'll end up an old person, but if you start
the Camino like an old person, you'll end like a young person.
Soon we came upon an area that someone had turned into a rest place for Pilgrims. There was a table full of bananas, cookies, crackers, boiled eggs, and other snacks that you could take and leave a donation if you liked. There were lots of messages painted on slates of rock and a collage of scallop shells in the shape of a heart.
I had a banana and a cookie and we walked on. As we did, we saw another marker for a Pilgrim who had died on the Camino, and I told them about the two men I had heard about who had heart attacks since we had all started walking in May. And they shared a really sad and traumatic experience. They were walking along the Camino one day, and up ahead of them, a man collapsed across the trail. The nearby Pilgrims tried to revive him and give him CPR, and for a moment he drew a large breath, but then he died. They said his 20 year old son was standing there with him completely distraught. An ambulance and helicopter came, but he was already gone. A very sobering reminder of how quickly life can be taken away.
At the next town, they stopped for food and I decided to push on to Sarria, my destination city for the day. I walked by myself for a while and in the last hour, a tired young Pilgrim came up behind me and I met Margherita from Italy who had just finished her 2nd year of university. Margarita had studied English at University and her accent was so cute as most of her words in English ended in an A or O sound making them sound very Italian. When we arrived at Sarria, we found an albergue and checked in. We were both thirsty (the days had really started heating up) and starving, so we dropped our bags and went to the nearest restaurant.
And this is where we met a wonderful, crazy, force of nature call Yvette. Yvette was originally born in Holland, but now lived in Nova Scotia Canada. Her accent was Dutch, but her English was fast and fluent and she was hilarious. She and I got along immediately. Gustavo had just texted me, so I told him where we were and he also joined us. Again we had intersections of languages, but no language in common. Gustavo and Margherita already knew each other from earlier in the Camino, and when he spoke Spanish, she could sort of understand since it was similar to Italian, but she only spoke English and Italian. Yvette spoke Dutch, German, and English, but no Spanish or Italian. And Yvette and I were laughing and talking in fast slang, so at times no one could understand us :). And yet the four of us were getting along really well and were having a lot of fun and laughing a lot.
Day 31: The next morning we all decided to walk together. As we started walking, we got a picture to remember what town we had stayed in.
The day before had been the hottest day so far, and as we left at 7:30 a.m, it was already heating up. It was clear it was going to be a hot hot day once the sun was fully up.
Many people had warned us that things really change when you get to Sarria because you’ll see a lot more people on the Camino, many who had just joined, and many who had just come to walk for a day or two. We saw this right away when we reached a table that had snacks and refreshments for Pilgrims (where you can take what you like and donate what you like), and at the stamping station, where you can put a stamp in your Pilgrim’s passport, and there was an actual line!
Luckily, as we kept walking the crowds thinned out as everyone settled into their own walking pace. But you could always see Pilgrims ahead and behind, and we even saw a group of thirty teenaged old girls on a field trip walking in a large group with small backpacks held by thin strings. They definitely didn’t have the blistered, calloused, torn-up feet the rest of us Pilgrims had :). Regardless of numbers, the day was still completely enjoyable and beautiful.
We even came across a bagpiper as the instrument is also native to the Galicia region in Spain we were walking through.
During the walk, we reached the Camino marker dictating the final 100 kilometers of the Camino! We started with 800 kilometers and had 100 remaining. So crazy I had crossed all that on foot!!!
Overall, it was an 8 hour walk day with a couple of rest stops for drinks and lunch, but the last two hours of it were pretty brutal because it was 90 degrees with no shade. But the payoff was great because we arrived at the beautiful town of Portomarin which had a huge beautiful lake.
We ended the day by gathering a bunch of yummy snacks and drinks, and having our dinner on a park bench with a beautiful lake view.
Day 32: I started walking on May 1st, 2019, and now my 32nd day of walking meant I had walked an entire month, and it was now June 1st. Unbelievable but the strange part was, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Or at least that’s what I thought until I walked out of the albergue that morning around 8am and it was already so hot that I started the day in short sleeves for the first time. I had 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to walk that day and I sure hoped there was some shade. Some pictures from the day.
Luckily there were a couple places along the Camino that day where there were ice cold baths we could put our tired, swelling feet in.
Even though the last few days had been very warm, physically I was feeling great. I hadn’t had a single foot problem since the blisters healed from the earlier flip flop fiasco, my muscles were a little sore at the end of these 7-8 hour walk days, but after a little rest, they recovered quickly. Now I had only three days remaining before I arrived in Santiago to meet my best friend Rob who was flying in from California. He and I would be walking an additional 3 days to the ocean, and I sure hoped his feet were ready :). See you soon Rob!!
Day 33: I had planned on staying in albergues for the rest of the walk, but the last one I stayed in had some new additions to the Camino who were not as respectful as the people I had experienced so far. In the shared dormitory room of 20, there were a group of six guys in their 60s from Scotland who came in late, were really drunk and were turning the light on and off, and shushing each other and laughing about it. So in the next town, Castañeda, I stayed in a lovely rural hostel with a private room and a bath.
This little town was not one of the stages in the popular Pilgrims guide, so I knew it would be less crowded. As I walked out of that town that morning, I didn’t see anyone else on the road for a while.
I only had that day and the next before I reached the official end of the Camino in Santiago de Compostela. I wanted to soak everything in and enjoy every step.
Day 34: Rain! We had had three really hot consecutive days that reached into the 90s, and then there was a big weather shift, and it was raining as I started my walk that morning. But not hard rain. It was misty and actually quite pleasant and it was nice to dig my jacket back out of my pack.
walked, I dug an apple out of my pack and made a new friend.
I did a long walk day that day so I could be sure to be in Santiago on June 4th to meet Rob.
I arrived around 5pm in Pedrouzo Arca. This was the last stage before Santiago. Before I had wanted to escape the crowds, but here I wanted to celebrate with other Pilgrims with one walking day left before the majority of them finished and went back to their various countries. So after showering and doing some laundry, I closed out the day laughing, drinking and eating with a fun and rowdy group of Pilgrims.
Day 35: June 4th, my arrival day for Santiago where the Camino de Santiago officially ends. I left late that day and walked without any hurry. The weather forecast said lots of rain, so I geared up in boot covers and rain jackets, but I ended up stripping it all back off pretty quickly. The ground was wet but the weather was perfect.
The walk was beautiful and bittersweet.
As Santiago got closer, there was definitely excitement in the air.
I reached the outskirts of town, but the Cathedral that holds the remains of Saint Santiago was still a 40 minute walk to the center of the city, but I was getting close!
As I made my way through town, the clouds were looking a little ominous and it was raining off and on.
I arrived in the historic city center and saw the archway into the plaza the great Cathedral of Santiago sits on. The end of the Camino.
I had made it. Through blisters and rain and sleepless nights and meeting so many amazing people along the way, I had actually done it. 35 days on the Camino with only 2 rest days due to blisters. I was pretty darn happy.
The shirt I’m wearing with the arrow on it I got along the Camino and lists all the main cities I had walked through. The image is formed into the arrow, one of so many that I had followed all the way pointing to Santiago. There were lots of other Pilgrims in the square who I knew and had walked with and we greeted each other and hugged. And then the evening ended even better with the arrival of my bestie, Rob!!
Day 36: Rob arrived the night before in Santiago at 11:30pm and took a taxi directly to the cool cave-like bar where I was hanging out with other Pilgrims.
guy had had a 24 hour travel day flying from his sister’s in
San Diego to San Francisco to Madrid to Barcelona to Santiago.
He was more exhausted than us Pilgrims! So Day 36 was a rest
day for both of us. We each got a room in a Monastery hostel
right next to the main square where I had finished the French
Way (St. James) Camino the day before.
The day before was raining off and on but this day was sunny and beautiful, so I took Rob to the square where the Pilgrims arrive after their long trek and he got to meet some of the Pilgrims he had read about in the blog!
luck would have it, one of our Skyline College teaching
colleagues Serena Chu-Mraz was arriving that same day with her
husband Chris! They were doing the last part of the Camino and
would also be getting a Compostela for completing the last 100
kilometers (60 plus miles). It was so fun giving advice to new
Pilgrims who were about to walk the same road I just did. They
had planned to start in the traditional last week starting
place in Sarria, but since they had the time, I talked them
into backing it up 40 kilometers (25 miles) to start in the
gorgeous mountain town of O Cebreiro which they ended up
It was really fun hanging out with them and they both spoke Spanish! A bonus for some of my new non-English speaking Pilgrim friends and less translating work for me! Hanging out with friends from home along with my new friends from the Camino was a lovely closing to the Santiago chapter of the pilgrimage. Next, Rob and I would be setting out alone to walk from Santiago to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre. It was less common to carry on after Santiago, so I figured this would be a much more solitary trek, but I was walking it with one of my favorite people on the planet who I would literally walk to the ends of the earth for, so it seemed very appropriate.
Day 37: RAIN. Lots of lots of rain. I had seen a few days of light rain in my month-plus long trek, but of course, the deluge happened on Rob’s Day 1 of walking!! It was a wet trial by fire for poor Rob but we “weathered” it with smiles.
out with a quiet walk along a beautiful river with a light
Now it was time for Rob to relax post-finals, stop and smell the roses, and enjoy the peaceful countryside.
But then the lovely light drizzle, turned into real rain. Pouring, relentless rain. Our light rain gear was quickly failing. Rob said he could feel water running down his back and my arms and shoulders were soaked. We walked through a few tiny villages that were just a collection of houses with no stores or restaurants or even covered shelters where we could get out of the downpour. Finally, we saw signs for a bar-restaurant and sought shelter and much needed libations!
off our wet rain gear, the second thing I did was to inspect
Rob’s feet! I didn’t want him to have any foot issues or
blisters to ruin his walk, so I inspected his feet (recall
there is no foot-revulsion on the Camino!). I pushed and
prodded all over his feet and toes and asked if there were any
sore spots. He said one toe was bothering him, so I took out
my foot first aid kit (this turned out to be one of the most
important and most used things in my pack) and wrapped the toe
in question in a band-aid and then wrapped it in a second
another layer in stretchy breathable kinesiology tape.
soggy Pilgrims came in and all checked into the albergue
connected to the bar-restaurant we were sitting in, but if we
wanted to make it to the ocean in the time before our flight
to the Canary Islands, we had no choice but to soldier on. We
wistfully watched some Pilgrims hopping in a taxi, but after
some warm food and a couple of beers, we put back on our soggy
rain gear and headed out into the storm to walk another
several hours to the village of Vilaserio. It was so windy,
rainy and ridiculous that we pretty much just laughed our
whole way through it.
This still makes
The owner of the place greeted us and she was so nice. The albergue was her family home she had grown up in and there was a lovely warm fire crackling in the hearth with wet Pilgrim shoes lined around the edge so I added my soggy Tevas.
We only had 3 days and 2 nights for Rob and my mini-Camino to Finisterre, and I was determined that he have the albergue bunk bed experience, but when our host asked if we wanted to be in the 10-bed dormitory downstairs or the empty room upstairs that included two beds that were not bunk beds, I chose the latter and had no regrets!
That night, Rob got to have the communal Pilgrim dinner experience which for me is one of the highlights of albergue-living! We had a lovely dinner with 3 Germans, a woman from Switzerland, and a woman from Texas. Everyone spoke English with enough fluency that we had a dinner filled with jokes and lots of laughs as we all shared the different funny Camino and albergue experiences we had had along the way. Santiago is the end point of several other Caminos, so some of these Pilgrims had come from different routes, so it was really cool to hear about their experiences on some of the lesser traveled ways, and I knew I would also be looking into doing some of these other Caminos in my future.
An hour or so down the road, we caught up with Regina from Germany, one of our albergue companions from the night before and we walked and chatted for a few hours.
We walked into one village and were greeted by a doggie-kitty welcome crew. It seemed everyone put their differences aside and got along on the Camino.
The day continued to be stunning and I was so happy that Rob was able to experience it.
As we walked, we could see the effects of the intense storm from the day before.
As we started gaining some elevation and climbing some steeper hills, Regina said goodbye as she stopped to rest and Rob and I carried on. Rob was doing great on his second day and was going at my same pace. He was jumping into Pilgrim-life very well.
Further down the road, we came across a sheep herder who was moving his flock towards us. Just another taste of slow-paced pastoral life on the Camino.
At the end of our walk day (we covered 27 kilometers or about 17 miles), we arrived in the small village of Hospital which had one albergue. We were one of the last Pilgrims to arrive that day and the owner, who didn’t speak any English, asked me: “Tenemos una habitación con una litera y un baño privado o tenemos una habitación compartida con baño compartido. ¿Cual preferirías?” Without consulting Rob, I quickly responded “el dormitorio grande” hoping that he was not understanding the exchange. He didn’t ask any questions until we arrived in our dormitory room with 3 bunk beds and there were two guys taking naps snoring loudly, and the room was warm and smelled like feet. Then he turned to me and asked, “Did that woman say there was a private room, but you chose this one???” Busted!! :). I wanted Rob to have the FULL albergue experience! He was less than pleased with me, but he sucked it up like a good Pilgrim and I was loving every minute of it! Welcome to the Camino Rob!!
After a few hours, it was time for communal Pilgrim’s dinner. I had had a cold and then after that day walking in the torrential rains, I had completely lost my voice! I could speak in a harsh forced whisper so soldiered on and chatted with the Pilgrims next to us. They were from all over: Italy, the Netherlands, but luckily they all spoke English which was a little easier on my tired vocal chords and brain. I felt fine but sounded like Marge Simpson after chain smoking 5 packs of cigarettes! :).
We ended the night hanging out with some of the locals in the one bar in town and getting ready for our last day of walking the next day. It was all ending too soon (I know that sounds weird after over a month of walking), but I wasn’t ready for it all to be over, and it was so fun to experience this with Rob who always makes everything fun.
Day 39: The last day of the Camino. What a bittersweet day!!!! Today was the day we would reach the water and what the Spaniards at one time thought was the edge of the world. We reached the lovely town of Cee which sat on an inlet and it was my first sort of glimpse of the ocean. It was more bay than ocean but we were getting close.
view of the water was brief as we cut back inland toward
Then, just as we were about 10 minutes from reaching our first views of the ocean proper, coming towards us were two Pilgrims I had run into quite a few times along the way. Mateo from Italy and Daniel from Germany:
We said our goodbyes, and then Rob and I could see something on the horizon…
I’m a California native and have lived in coastal cities my entire life and even though I had just walked across a land not my own, it felt like a home coming.
The smell of salty air was intoxicating and carried with it all the memories of my childhood growing up in the southern coastal town of Ventura and now it mingled with my new memories of the Camino and what I was about to accomplish.
However, we were not quite there yet! We could see the peninsula we still needed to walk to the end of to arrive at the lighthouse in Finisterre, the kilometer zero marker of the walk. I had about one more hour to savor the last of the walk, and we were in no rush.
We stopped for a coffee and to drink in the salt air and ocean view. From the top of the Pyrenees and across many others peaks and valleys and then down to ocean level, I had traversed many ups and downs to get there.
on, walking at a leisurely pace and even as I write this, I
find myself slowing down and not wanting yet to arrive.
Then we came across a sign for the Finisterre lighthouse (faro in Spanish and it’s called Fisterra in Galegan, the local dialect of the region) and it marked the last mile of my 500 mile walk.
Just as we started the slow uphill climb, I heard some honking and looked over and there were Doug and Shelly! The Pilgrims I met on Day 1 and ran into repeatedly at different times along the Camino!
Incredible Camino timing!!! We gave each other big hugs, chatted a bit and then they told us to enjoy our last bit of the Camino and we all said goodbye. Then as we continued walking, I looked ahead, and there was a Pilgrim walking towards me. It was Emma from England, the lovely woman I had met during my first week of the Camino, and we had made that earlier dinner with the other female travelers! The Camino was providing again and in my last part of it, I was getting the incredible opportunity to see some of my favorite Camino friends again!
had just flown in from England to celebrate her accomplishment
with her. We gave each other hugs and planned to get a drink
together up at the end by the lighthouse.
had arrived in Santiago, I felt very happy and overjoyed to be
there, but I didn’t get emotional. However, arriving in
Finisterre, the true end of my Camino, was different and Rob
hugged me as I cried happy tears.
It was all very overwhelming. The place was swarming with tourists, many of whom had clearly just hopped in their cars to visit the famous site for a day trip, but you could see the Pilgrims sprinkled throughout the crowds. They were unmistakable in their quick-dry clothing, battered shoes and full packs. As I walked out onto the furthest promontory, those who had walked it were marked by a quietness as they sat looking out at the ocean.
walked past an older woman sitting up on top of a rock, and
she asked me if I had just walked it. I told her yes and she
asked my starting point. I told her St. Jean in France and she
told me she had done the same. She told me that she had walked
up the Pyrenees one of the days it snowed, and she had
experienced hypothermia and was sick and shivering in a bunk
bed for days afterwards. She said she had thought her Camino
would end there, but a bunch of Pilgrims gave her their
blankets, and she recovered. As she walked on, she said had
experienced a lot of pain and foot problems along the way, but
she had persevered. I congratulated her and told her I was
very happy she had made it and that she had a lot to be proud
of. She said, “Rachel congratulations to you and so do you.”
We gave each other smiles that spoke quietly of our shared
experience and I left her to enjoy the satisfaction of her
We left the promontory to head back to the zero kilometer marker, and we had to wait in line with a funny mixture of Pilgrims and tourists in order to get a picture with the landmark.
Then it was my turn. I had reached the zero kilometer marker and had the calloused, peeling, tattered Pilgrim’s feet to prove it!
Emma was there too and we got pictures together!
her husband Stewart, Rob and I all got drinks, and we told
them we were taking a bus back to Santiago that afternoon, and
then catching a flight to the Canary Islands the next morning.
Emma said that they had hired a car and were driving up to
Muxia, the other famous Camino end point on the water that we
didn’t have the extra day to walk to but really wanted to(!).
She asked if we wanted to ride there with them and then back
to Santiago. The Camino was over and yet it was still
providing! We happily accepted and what incredible luck. Muxia
was much more scenic and beautiful, and I’m so grateful we got
to experience it as well. What an unexpected bonus on our last
day!! The landscape and the clouds were surreal.
What an incredible gift that Emma and Stewart gave us! We got back in the car and returned to Santiago. We gave them big hugs and said goodbye. We headed back to the same Monastery we had stayed in before in Santiago and retrieved the suitcase Rob had left there, and I got out some of my things he had brought me which included toe nail polish! The first thing I did upon returning to my room, was to thank my feet by buffing off the calluses and peeling skin and giving myself a pedicure. It was official, with these painted feet, I was no longer a Pilgrim.
be both sad and beautiful and that is how this last day felt.
I was sad it was over but I was also relieved to have some
time off from the physical grind of walking 6-7 hours every
day. Luckily, it still wasn’t time to go back to the real
world as Rob and I had 5 days booked at an Air BnB with a pool
and a 5-minute walk to the beach on Gran Canaria in the Canary
Islands, and then 3 days in Barcelona where we were meeting up
with our friend Suzanne. Also, my Pilgrim friend Gustavo
happened to live on the island we had booked, so we had a fun
tour guide awaiting us.
feel like I am better now at slowing down and quieting my
impatience that can needlessly cause me daily aggravation and
is part of me. It transformed me in my mid 20s and it did it
again in my late 40s. A Spanish woman told me, “Raquel, tienes
el alma y el corazón de una española (Rachel, you have the
soul and heart of a Spaniard). It was a beautiful compliment.
Spaniards live in the streets (not shut up in their homes),
they hang out in large groups of friends and extended family,
they are loud at times all talking at once, they like to
party, and they have many festivals and holidays throughout
the year to do all these things together. I love my country,
my state, and my city, and I also love Spain and speaking the
beautiful language of Spanish. The day after I returned to SF,
I enrolled in two intermediate-level Spanish classes at SF
City College: one that will focus on grammar and writing and
one on conversation. So come fall, the Camino has also made me
a student again!
Speaking of travel, here are some pictures from our post-Camino vacation in the Canary Islands and Barcelona. Such fun times with great people. I can’t wait for the next adventure!
And on my last day in Barcelona, I got to meet up with my Barcelona Camino friend Manuel and meet his lovely wife. A perfect conclusion to an amazing trip.
And then back on home to my crazy, frenetic, vibrant city…I was one small changed fish returning to her big bustling pond: