Rachel’s Camino de Santiago Blog

I wrote this blog entirely on my phone as I walked the Camino.  

Quick Jump
T-Minus Two Weeks
T-Minus One Day
Days 1 & 2
Days 3 & 4
Days 5 & 6
Days 7 & 8
Days 9 & 10
Days 11 & 12
Days 13-16
Day 17
Days 18-20
Days 21-22
Days 23-25
Days 26-28
Days 29-32
Days 33-35
Days 36-39 (and beyond)

Walking 500 Miles Across Spain:
Right now, that header sounds about as realistic as landing on the moon, but taking it step by step, I hope to change that!


T-Minus Two Weeks:
4/17/19: Today is a Wednesday. It is nearly a year and a half after I submitted my sabbatical proposal, and now I must soon literally walk the walk. The Weds after next on May 1st 2019, I will begin walking the Camino de Santiago taking the French route (Camino Francés), which is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain that should take 33-35 days of walking 6-8 hour days to complete. Right now as I sit at my computer with my cat on my lap this seems pretty daunting. 

Why blog? Just trying to write about this journey and what it means feels daunting, but I will be documenting it because reason#1, as part of my sabbatical, I’ll share my story with my students as part of my fall class theme: “Challenges, Failures & Perseverance” (I really hope this story is not one of failure!). So as I share my journey, I will try to be honest about my struggles, push deeper in my reflections, and also try not to commit the cardinal sin of being boring. Also, I’ll be doing the majority of the walk alone, and yet I’m the type who does not like doing things alone. I feel awkward eating by myself in a restaurant, I feel weird going to a movie by myself, and I felt lonely the one time I’ve traveled out-of-country by myself. While I do want to challenge this in myself, I write this blog for reason #2, so I can also draw strength from knowing my friends and family can join in on this journey with me. 

Background: I’m not an athlete. Never have been. I used to run semi-regularly in my 20s and 30s and for the past 8 months I’ve been walking regularly, but I have never gone on a hike longer than 6 hours and I’ve never carried a loaded pack longer than 3 hours. That this will soon change is an understatement. Also, 2019 has already been a year of dramatic challenge and change for me. In December of 2018, after years of feeling like we were living largely separate lives and did not get along like a couple should, I asked my husband to end our marriage after 6 1/2 years together. He moved out last month. So far I’ve been enjoying a much better friendship with him, we’re both happier, but there are still feelings of sadness and loss. Additionally, my mom was recently diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, so we have been working together to adjust to this new normal while ensuring she can continue to live on her own safely. For the first time, I’ve had to intrude on her privacy and start the process of managing her financials, being her medical-care advocate, and most importantly figuring out our new relationship in which I take on more of a caretaker role and she is open and trusting enough to let me. The last change of 2019 was me turning 49 in January. There’s nothing like staring down the mid-century mark to force you to take stock in your own health in all of its meanings. As I head into this walk and have nothing but time to think and reflect and to have to rely on and push my body in ways I never have before, I hope to emerge stronger in body, mind, and spirit, or something less new-agey sounding :). 

My first walk with a 22 pound loaded pack at the beginning April 2019: 


Contents of my backpack–every ounce counts! Two days ago I changed out my 45 liter pack (above) for a smaller 28 liter pack. I also did what you aren’t supposed to do…I returned the hiking boots I had been walking in for the last 8 months as they had just recently given me blisters on a particularly hilly hike. I replaced them with lighter hiking shoes I need to pretty much live in now before I go.

The things I’ll carry: After consulting with a friend who has done this Camino several times, reading countless blogs, and looking at various people’s packing lists for the trek, here is what I have which with water now comes in at 19 pounds…about 4 pounds more than I’d like but things are already bare-bones for over a month of travel! Contents: 3 quick-dry shirts with sunblock; 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of hiking shoes, 1 pair of flip flops; 1 water resistant windbreaker; 1 long sleeve zip up; 1 dress to wear in the evenings (the 1 luxury item for relaxing and not walking); 4 pairs of underwear; 4 pairs of hiking socks; 2 sports bras; 1 day-pack; 1 shower bag (with soap, shampoo, deodorant, and other toiletries); concise map of hiking stages; packets of energy and protein gel; gear bag (charging cords, adapters, carabiners, laundry lines/soap/plug to wash clothes in sinks, etc); quick dry towel; medicine bag (with Ibuprofen, Pepto, electrolytes, anti-inflammatories from my doctor as I have developed tendinitis in my left foot from training); 2-liter water bladder; pack of kleenex and ziplock trash bag (when I’m between towns and need to go!); sunblock; brush; hiking pole; rain covers for my pack and myself; 1 massage ball to rub on sore feet, back, hips; 1 scarf/headband; a sleep sack sprayed with bed bug spray as I’ll mainly be staying in dormitory-style places called "albergues" with other pilgrims and sleeping in bunk beds (another first); and for the snoring and noise of dormitory-life: ear plugs, eye mask, and sleeping pills! And finally, an item I never thought I would have assembled: a Feet First Aid Kit–my poor little size-6 feet need to carry me and my pack over many many miles, so I have one bag dedicated entirely to feet: foot powder, foot glide, foot lotion, band-aids, kinesiology-sports tape, waterproof tape, Compeed blister cushions, gauze, alcohol swabs, needle and thread for blisters, Neosporin, cortizone cream, clippers, emery board, scissors, and more band-aids! 


Stripping down: 
Those are the contents of my pack now, but every Camino video or blog I’ve read and video seems to contain the repeated theme of stripping down…leaving behind things you thought you couldn’t live without, dropping weight you were carrying but didn’t need, trimming down to the essentials. The life metaphor is pretty clear here, so I’ll reign in my English-teacher self from putting too fine a point on this. 

I hope I’ve piqued your interest and you will join me in this journey…every word of support will mean everything especially when I’m out on that long road stretching out endlessly ahead.

T-Minus One Day:
After about a 20 hour travel day yesterday, I’m now on a train from Bordeaux, France on my way to St. Jean Pied-de-Port in south western France near the Spain border. This is where the "French Way" begins, which is the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago. I read recently that an average of 400 Peregrinos (Pilgrims) a day have been leaving from here as the weather turns from winter to spring. Add two more Americans as my friend Will and I are going to start walking from there in the morning on May 1st. I’ve known Will for years and as an avid trekker and traveler, he decided a few weeks ago to come join me for the first week of the Camino, and I’m glad he did. It’s easy to be braver with a travel buddy. We had a 6 hour layover in London, so we hopped on a train into central London to enjoy some very large beers and pub food, and we did some hasty sight-seeing around Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.

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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.

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It was 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.

Days 1 & 2: 5000 feet gained in elevation, 22 miles walked, 478 miles to go!

Day 1: On 4/30, I arrived in St. Jean by myself as Will took a later train to spend more time sightseeing in Bordeaux. I switched trains in Bayonne and entered a train full of pilgrims and backpacks. As we arrived, the train erupted in Pilgrims.

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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.

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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.

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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.

At 6am, 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.

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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.

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 We arrived in Orisson around 11am where there was one small albergue.

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We got 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.

After dinner, one of our hosts said, “A tradition we have here is that each person tells us where they are from and why they are here.” I had heard many different languages throughout the day, but everyone answered in English, or at least made their best effort. The people in the room were from different places from all over the world from places like Namibia, Denmark, Ireland, Tasmania, Germany, South Korea, France, Spain, New Zealand, the U.S, England, the Netherlands to name a few.  And then each person shared his or her story.

Some were there because friends had encouraged and inspired them, others had religious reasons, some had health issues they were overcoming, and some were there supporting their partner’s Camino dream.  One young man in his 20s from Ireland said, “I lost my mom 6 weeks ago and now I find myself here.” Another 40-something man from the U.S. had lost his wife to a long battle with cancer the year before and he was walking this in her honor. A German woman suffering from degrading muscular dystrophy, was walking the Camino for the third time while she could. She started this particular Camino by walking out her front door in northern Germany.

The dinner gave me a new appreciation for the people in that room who were now no longer strangers.

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Day 2:
I slept in a room with 3 bunk beds and 6 people. Three were from Tasmania and had strong Aussie accents and called me what sounded like Raaaytch. They were a family: a couple in their 40s and their sweet 8 year old daughter Lily. You see Pilgrims of all ages but she was the youngest I’d seen so far. Thankfully, no one snored, so I had the best sleep, and woke up at 6:30am refreshed and ready to put in a full day of walking. We had a communal breakfast at 7am and we all greeted each other like old friends. We headed out into a thick mist, and I felt a little concerned as some have died during bad visibility by walking off cliff sides.  Emilio Estevez wrote and directed a movie called The Way, starring his father Martin Sheen, about the Camino, and the film begins with Emilio's character doing just what I described, walking off a cliff during low visibility and dying Day 1 of his Camino.  However, after a few hours on our walk the visibility improved, and I was so thankful that at the last minute I threw gloves in my pack. It drizzled here and there and towards the top, there were patches of snow.  Later on the Camino, I found out that the next day it snowed and some had to be rescued from the top of the Pyrenees.

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Sadly, we also came across a lot of markers indicating Pilgrims who died there.


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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.

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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.

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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.


Afterwards, we 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.

Days 3 & 4: Blisters! 42 miles, 458 to go and I now have blisters on the outside of both my big toes. Boo. I was really hoping to avoid them but there has been a lot of up and down hill walking the past 2 days, but I think it’s really the steeper downhill that was doing it. Today my front shin muscles have been aching too, but I’m still really loving the walk.

Day 3: We 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.

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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.

On this 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 revenge.”

This made me laugh but also think about my own pace so I asked Will, who has run 10 marathons, hikes, bikes, and is generally very active, if my pace was ok. Maybe he wanted to power walk the Camino and I was holding him back. He said that he was walking exactly as fast as he wanted to walk. I was relieved that our paces matched, and I’d say we are a little faster than the average except he scampers up the hills a bit quicker, and he has no soreness or blisters not to mention he’s carrying a much heavier pack than I am.

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Towards the end of Day 3, I was starting to feel depleted. We stopped for a much needed rest and lunch in a town called Zubiri, but we had booked in a little village called Urdániz another hour further. We had some paella and then I went outside to check my sore toes.  This is when I discovered the blisters. As I started it inspect the blisters, it started pouring rain. I’ll admit it, for a second I looked around the town square for a taxi. As I was feeling pretty dejected. 

Just then, an American couple came along and the man saw I was inspecting my blisters and right away, he went into his pack and handed me some amazing gel plasters.  I put them on my toes, put my shoes back on, and those plasters made such a difference. With a “buen Camino” he was off and I’m not kidding, the pouring rain stopped at the same moment. There’s a phrase they use on this walk, “the Camino provides” and boy did it. The next hour walk went quickly and at our next albergue, I was able to pay forward some of that Camino kindness.

In Urdániz, we stayed at a small family-run albergue with 2 dormitory rooms and 10 beds. In our room was a couple in their late 20s, she was from Rio de Janeiro and he was from upstate New York. I told her I had just been to Rio in February and we got to chatting. She told me that she liked to do graphic design and was writing and illustrating a children’s book she was about to self-publish. She said it was in Portuguese and she had also translated it into Spanish and a friend translated it into English for her. I told her I was an English teacher, and if she wanted any help from me, I’d be happy to take a look at it. She got very excited, grabbed her phone, and started showing me the beautiful images from her book called The Shell Collector. I started to read the English version, and I could quickly see that her friend had probably just used Google Translate and that the English needed a lot of work. So I sat down with her and for the next two hours we worked on re-crafting the language together. Here is John, Raquel, and me:


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.


Day 4:  I wrapped my toes, and we walked 5. 5 hours to Pamplona. The first four hours were through beautiful countryside and Will and I walked most of the day by ourselves, except for about a half an hour when we walked with the Brazilian family. Luckily they spoke Spanish and Will speaks a little Portuguese so we were able to communicate.  We also walked for another half hour with a really nice couple, Doug and Shelly from Arizona, who we met on our first day walking and had run into every day since.

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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.

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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 :).

Days 5 & 6:  64 miles down, 436 to go! 6 days of walking what would be an hour drive by car. And I need to still walk over 7 times what I have already walked. Hard to wrap my head around that.

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.

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We headed back to our hostel around 11 p.m., and nearly all 14 bunks were full of sleeping Pilgrims except there were 3 empty beds in the corner where some young Spanish guys had arrived earlier who didn’t look like Pilgrims (no packs, no quick dry clothing, no hiking shoes), so they were probably in town for the fiestas. Sure enough, they woke me up as they rolled in around 3:30 a.m. It wasn’t a big deal and I needed to go to the bathroom anyway. Since earlier Will and I had also come in late, I had crawled up the ladder and into the top bunk in my clothes, took my jacket and pants off, and slipped into my sleep sack putting my clothes at the foot of the bed. As the young guys were settling into their bunks, I reached down to grab my pants, but they were gone. Jacket still there, pants gone. I couldn’t believe it. Had someone stolen my pants? I had only brought the one pair because with the weight of a pack every ounce counts, so I had no backup pants. The room was dark and everyone was sleeping, so I grabbed my phone and put on the flashlight in search of my pants. About 10 minutes later and now fully awake, I finally located them. They had fallen off the bed and we’re on the ground between the bed and the wall. No need for the pants police.

Luckily, I was able to fall back asleep because we had a long walk day ahead of us with a very steep peak in the middle called Alto del Perdón. We had heard the sad news that an American pilgrim had died of a heart attack the day before climbing this peak. News article: 

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.

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And soon we were on a steady uphill climb.


We soon reached the top of Alto del Perdón and it was a bit windy.

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The walk down from the peak was initially a little treacherous as the path was covered with rocks.

But then came some of the most gorgeous scenery I had seen so far. A funny thing about the Camino is sometimes there are lots of people on the trail, and you greet them with a smile or an hola or a "buen Camino" as you or they pass. And then other times it is quite solitary and it feels like it is just you and nature. As we walked down the hill, it felt like suddenly we were the only ones there. All I could hear were birds and the wind rustling through field after field of vibrant green wheat with rippling waves spreading across them.


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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).

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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.

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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.

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I arrived in my destination town, a mountain town (hence all the hills) called Cirauqui.


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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 :).

Days 7 & 8:  88 miles walked, 412 miles to go.

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.

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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.

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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.


I continued on and and this day’s Camino went under a few bridges.

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As I carried on, I saw more and more Pilgrims on the path and walked through some scenic villages.

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Then I met a psychiatrist from Holland named Haen. We walked and chatted about life, family and the Camino for hours and then we came to the Fuente de Vino, the fountain of wine on the Camino. Pilgrims can drink from the wine fountain which I tried to do without touching my mouth to it as others were doing but it got messy.

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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.


They were 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.

I settled in, took a much needed shower, and then met some more amazing women, each walking the Camino sola. I was sitting in the shared living room area of the albergue charging my phone and writing this blog, and an English woman, Emma, came in and we started talking and we decided we would get dinner together. Then a German woman, Micheala, came in and said since we had a kitchen, perhaps we could all cook our dinner together, and she showed us some pasta and sauce she had just purchased at the local market. We all agreed and Emma and I went to the same market to add to the dinner. We got salad, sausage, cheese, wine and chocolate bars for dessert. Then Ivana joined us and we cooked a family-style dinner together in the modest kitchen. It was such a great feeling of women from different places coming together. They even connected me to a Facebook group of women walking the Camino called Camigas.


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.

Day 8: 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.

Afterwards, I was doing what was now my morning foot regimen: Band-Aids on my still healing big toes and I wrapped a little toe that was getting sore. Just then a retired Spanish guy named Tomas, who I was chatting with the night before, saw me and said, "Tu hablas en español. ¿Me puedes ayudar?"
(you speak Spanish, can you help me?).  Then he showed me 3 places on his feet that were rubbed raw and inflamed. I started to hand him Band-Aids, but he said he had had back surgery and couldn't bend very well to reach his feet. So I quickly opened up the Band-Aids and had my first experience of bandaging the feet of someone else! He was so sweet and grateful and happily wished me "buen Camino" as I headed out.

I 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 the Spaniards.

We talked about everything from politics, to family, to funny life stories, and they asked how I learned Castellano (Castilian in English, the official term for Spanish that originated in Spain), and I told them about living for a year in Madrid in the 90s. They told me they both lived in Pamplona, were best friends, and their daughters too, and were doing the Camino because both had just retired. I told them I hoped to retire in 8 years when I’m 57 as I’ll have 30 years teaching at my school. Tomas exclaimed, “Me cago en la leche! Tienes 49 años? Pareces mucho más joven!” Translation: “I shit in the milk! You’re 49? You look a lot younger.” I started laughing and told him I had missed Spain slang which could be quite colorful. I had first heard this phrase when I was visiting a Spanish friend and his family, and his older uncle said this. I was stunned and asked about it later and he said, “Oh I know, my uncle is so corny.” Corny? Pooping in dairy products may be considered a lot of things back home, but corny isn’t one of them. Here is Jesus, me and Tomas.


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.


I 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.

It had been threatening to rain all day and it was warm and muggy. The walk was pretty flat but there was absolutely no tree cover or shade. Also for the first time, the road stretched out straight ahead for miles and miles and it actually felt like I was making no forward progress and the town in the distance never seemed to get closer. This was my view for much of the second part of the day.

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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.

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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.

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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 tomorrow.

Days 9 & 10: 107 miles walked, 393 miles to go!

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.

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And I had some fun with the shadows.

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Further along, sadly there were some markers for fallen Pilgrims.

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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.


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I 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.

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In the 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 herself.

Soon I arrived in Logroño which after walking in the countryside all day seemed like a huge bustling city. Spain has 17 autonomous regions, I’ll be walking through 6 of them, and I had just walked from the Navarre region into the next one, La Rioja, as Logroño is in that region.

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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!

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Here are people showing their stamps on their Pilgrim’s passport. You get a stamp at each albergue you stay in, and you can get stamps in churches or sometimes from food vendors. At the end of the Camino you show your passport with all its stamps to get your Compostela certificate, proof that you did the walk.


Needless to say, we went through a few bottles.


I 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 :).

That night, some carried on the barhop, but Dolors, Craig and I went to go get dinner.


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.

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But you can get lost. I’ve only done it once by walking down a hill that I had to turn around and walk back up, but I only lost a few minutes. Haen, the Dutch psychiatrist I met earlier, said he was walking along a busy road and a Spanish guy pulled his car over and said, “Hey, are you a peregrino (pilgrim in Spanish)?” Haen said yes and the guy said, “Well you’re not on the Camino!” The guy then offered him a ride and drove him back to the Camino. When the Camino doesn’t provide, the kind Spanish locals do.

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.

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                                                                                 The goal city!

Soon, I was back out in the beautiful countryside.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

With 3 German speakers at the table, there was lots of conversation in German, but they would stop occasionally and give me quick translations. Hans, our new Austrian friend, had also met Marcelino and had gotten his autograph next to where he appeared in his Camino guidebook. This guy was famous!


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!

Pps. When I walked into the dining room for dinner, there was a long haired guy with piercings already at the table. German of course :).

Days 11 & 12:  135 miles walked, 365 miles to go!

Day 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.

The dinner started out silently because there wasn’t a common language at the table. But soon the Germans began talking amongst themselves, and the rest of us who could all understand English started to have a conversation. Meanwhile, I translated for the Spaniard, so he wasn’t the only one left out. The husband of the Bay Area couple was telling us how he liked to go to festivals like Burning Man. He was wearing a tie-dyed concert shirt from a festival inspired by the Grateful Dead, and he said at these festivals he likes to take ecstasy and LSD. I translated drawing surprised smiles from Javier. I tried to explain what Burning Man was, a temporary art-inspired week long festival with a lot of electronic music, no money exchange and a focus on community, but was getting some blanks stares from the Europeans, so I pulled up pictures on my phone. Everyone was very fascinated by the bizarre looking gathering of people in the desert wearing costumes, body paint or nothing at all, the other-worldly art, the vehicles that shoot out flames, and the 40-foot tall “man” at the center of it all which goes up in a huge inferno at the end of the festival.

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I’m not sure if we helped or hindered their views of Californians :).

After dinner, 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 don’t.

In the morning I got up, stuffed everything into my backpack, said auf wiedersehen to the Germans, and headed back out onto the Camino.

On this day, I walked for 5 hours with a really amazing Australian man named David. He’s a couple of years older than me, married to an Italian woman, has twin girls who are 18, and lives in Brisbane in Queensland. He was very intellectually curious, self taught and well read, and we ran the gamut of topics. First he asked if he could ask me why I was doing the Camino. I told him about my sabbatical, and I also shared the personal changes going on for me recently. He shared that he was here for a spiritual recharging. He and his wife had left the Jehovah Witness religion 10 years before, and he was simplifying what religion meant for him, and felt that truly what is most important are love and compassion. He demonstrated this as we walked along. Every Pilgrim we passed, he warmly greeted, introduced us, asked where they were from, and since he speaks English, Italian, and French, was able to directly connect and share some quick but genuine and friendly exchanges with a wide range of Pilgrims. His openness and kindness were infectious. He was a good listener, intellectually challenging, spiritually probing, and 5 hours never went by so fast.

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As we 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 senses”:

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We, stopped in one town called Nájera for a snack.

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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.

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I walked all morning by myself enjoying an audible book and taking pictures of the gorgeous countryside.

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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.

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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.

I 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.

I had gotten this a lot as California is next to Mexico and quite far from Spain, so my lisping Spanish accent was unexpected. After years of traveling in Mexico and Central America, I had lost the lisp, but after a day or two back in Spain it was back. They pronounce “Cs” and "Zs" with a “th” sound i.e. gracias sounds like grathias and the Spanish clothing store Zara, popular in the U.S., is actually pronounced Thara. They also have their own slang and rhythm of pronunciation. A good comparison would be the accent and word choice differences between British English and American English. I told him I had lived in Madrid in the 90s. He said, “Por eso, te invito a una copa de vino rosado de Rioja” (Because of that I’d like to treat you to a glass of rosé wine from Rioja).  Rioja was the region we were in. We clinked glasses and chatted as I ate my lunch. Then he said he needed to go meet his wife because today was the celebration of Santo Domingo, the saint that the town we were in was named for.

After I 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 like pallbearers.

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After the procession had passed, I waded my way through the crowds and saw the beautiful Church where many had just attended mass.

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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.

What is 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.

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I’m not 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Days 13-16: 186 miles walked, 314 to go.

Day 13: 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 could be.

We finished breakfast and I headed out with Craig in his full Camino kilt outfit.


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.

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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.

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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.


Day 14: I 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!

However this meant that I needed to cut out 3 days somewhere out of the middle of my Camino, so I could add those 3 days on to the end to walk with Rob. The important thing to me was to walk the 500 miles across Spain, which was my goal, so I would still be walking the same amount of miles, but instead my walk would now end with my feet in the ocean. With this in mind, I decided this day, Day 14, would be one of my “skip” days. So I packed my things, and took a $3 thirty-minute bus ride to Burgos, one of the bigger cities on the Camino de Santiago with over a hundred thousand people. I treated myself to an individual room in a hostel in the historic City Center of Burgos for $35. Even though this was supposed to be a rest day, I ended up walking all over the beautiful city, but in my flip flops to let my tired feet breathe, heal and recover.

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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.

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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:

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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 life.
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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.

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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.

                                                                     Angry chicken eye!

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/.
After dinner, our host called our attention to an enormous wine press above us and enlisted to Pilgrim's to churn it: Deah and David, the Israeli I met earlier with Mason and who was now working as a chef in Paris:

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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.

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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.

Day 17:  198 miles walked (12 limped and some of it ran), 302 to go!

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 pile of paper backings from all the stuff I covered my feet with.

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.

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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.

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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.

I 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.

As I ran, I imagined my family and friends lining the road on each side and cheering me on. I could actually picture their smiling faces and saying the encouraging words they were posting on my blog and on Facebook. I could see my friend Linda saying, “You got this!” and my friend Dave saying, “Keep on keepin’ on!” I saw my aunt Ginger saying “So proud of you honey!” and there was LeWeldon shouting, “I love you bunches!” and Albert nodding, “Mad respect.” And there was Rob hollering, “I can’t wait to join you!” And my friends Tina and Karen saying, “We’re living vicariously through you!” And my friend Susan calling out, “Love you lady!” and Chuck laughing and saying, “Tear it up beautiful.” And my friend Lisa saying, “Kicking ass like I knew you would.” And Randy cheering, “Go Cuzzie go!” And my mom smiling and saying as I passed, “You’re on a journey that will change your life forever.” And there was Kevin who I teased mercilessly about wearing Tevas in SF shouting, “How ya liking those Tevas now?!” As I imagined all this, I was soon laughing and crying as I ran on.

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.


Days 18-20: 231 miles walked, 269 miles to go!

Day 18: 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 rapid-fire Spanish.

As I finished my dinner and the room started to clear, a group of Spaniards at another table waved me over and said I needed a “chupito,” which literally means “little suck,” and is what they call shots. It’s common for Spaniards to end meals with a chupito of flavored liqueur, so I joined them. Then I started talking to another group of 3 Spanish friends who had grown up together and do a week-long section of the Camino together each year. They were taking a taxi to a bigger town with a bus and train station the next day and then catching a train home from there. I told them I wouldn’t be walking the next day and they invited me to share their taxi since we were in a small village with no buses or trains. I accepted and planned to meet them in the lobby of my hotel at 8:30 a.m. the next morning.

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.

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On the 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.

I translated the dinner options for the young couple, and they decided to steer away from the garbanzos con callos (garbonzos with beef tripe or stomach lining) and thanked me for the assistance. They ended up joining me at the table, and I got to meet Gareth from the southwestern part of England and Sevine from Israel, the second Camino-formed couple I had met. There were so few Israelis on the Camino that I jokingly asked her if she knew David, the chef from Israel. She laughed and said yes she had met him! She said it was rare for Israelis to do the Camino and only 40 on average per year did it (recall on average 400-500 people per day were starting in St. Jean since spring had arrived). As we sat there, another person came into the bar, a blond woman in her fifties wearing the tell-tale Pilgrim attire. I asked her to join us and she happily did. Her name was Suzanne and she was from Germany.


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.

Day 19: I 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 read some more encouraging words from friends and family online, and decided to just suck it up and start walking. So I packed up and covered my troubled spots with Band-Aids and more kinesiology tape on both feet.


I put on my stylish socks and Tevas, and hit the road.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

When 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 bridging time!

For the next three hours, I translated Spanish to English and vice versa. They all talked about their kids, the Germans had 3 between them (from multiple marriages), Manuel had a daughter, and Umberto had 4 children and 6 grandchildren. I told them I had no kids as I never wanted them, and even though I had translated correctly, none at the table seemed to understand. I told them I liked to travel and had realized early on that kids weren’t for me, and I never really wanted them or felt the desire to have them, but again, I was just getting puzzled looks. Manuel said, this is like having a garden with no flowers. I told them I had a very large group of friends in San Francisco who had also chosen not to have kids, so it was not that unusual where I lived. I don’t think they were convinced that this was a happy lifestyle choice, so we changed the subject and soon the conversation was quite lively again.

We stayed talking so long that we were the last Pilgrims to leave the dining room that night!  

                                                         Left to right: Umberto, Manuel, me, Chris, Andreas.


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.

Day 20: 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.

I went downstairs for breakfast and to think about it. The brothers from Barcelona were there having a quiet breakfast with two others at their table. When I sat down, Manuel said he had run into this couple we were sitting with a lot, but they hadn’t been able to communicate with them. When I greeted the couple, they told me the same. The guy Claude from Quebec, who spoke perfect English and French, asked me to ask if Manuel’s Brazilian wife who had been injured was better. Manuel laughed and said his Spanish wife of 44 years was healthy and at home, but the Brazilian woman they were walking with for a few days was better and reunited with her other Brazilian friends. Then Manuel asked them how long they had been married, and they laughed and said they were just friends and that she lived in France, and they had met doing a different Camino through France last year and had decided to do this Camino together this year.  We all laughed at all the misunderstandings and assumptions due to the previous language barriers. Also the woman spoke no English, so as I translated from Spanish to English, Claude was translating from English to French! Manuel joked that Claude and I should be paid for our language services. I left the table in a brighter mood and decided I would walk the 5-6 hours to the next town as all the friends I’d made as well as been reunited with were all doing the same.

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.

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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.

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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.


The Camino 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 removed.

We came to the town of Reliegos and stopped for a drink and snack. Just as we arrived, we ran into Haen! Such a crazy coincidence. I was walking with Haen several weeks before when I had first met Ruben and none of us had seen each other since.


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.


Robbie was 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 compassion.

As we neared the town nearly all of us were staying in, Mansilla de las Mulas, my phone rang and it was Manuel, one of the brothers from Barcelona, and he wanted to know if I had arrived yet and how my feet were doing. Compassion is right.

We arrived in town but said goodbye to Ruben who only had 2 weeks left to finish the Camino and also go all the way to the ocean in Finisterre, so he was pushing on. He was doing a 55 kilometer walk day that day (34 miles)! I told him he was moving fast and that I probably wouldn’t see him again, and he said Rachel, with the Camino, you never know!

                                    A church next to my albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas

Now I’m headed to meet the brothers from Barcelona and maybe reunite with more Camino friends because you never know!

Days 21-22: 262 miles walked, 238 miles to go!

Day 21: I 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.

I started the day with my new morning routine: open eyes, check feet. Miraculously, they both felt great. I was learning that the human body was a pretty amazing thing. I had ruined my feet with that day of having to walk in flip flops, but 4 days later and walking on them 3 of those days, my feet had actually been healing and felt great. I headed out happily in my socks and Tevas going at a brisk pace and passing lots of pilgrims. The morning light was beautiful, and I was snapping lots of pictures.

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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.”

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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:

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As we reached our destination city of
León, one of the bigger cities on the Camino with a population of about 125,000, it again felt jarring to be surrounded by buildings and cars. A lot of people I had talked to said they were doing an extra day there, but Tracy and I both agreed we would be heading back out and onto the smaller villages the next day. How was I going to go back to living in San Francisco with 800,000 people living in a compressed area of 7 miles by 7 miles and sharing walls?!

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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.

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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.

Tracy and 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.    

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                     Manuel, me, and Umberto                             Pepe, Ana, and Manuel

                                                               The Australian ladies: Tracy and Eli

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.

                                                                  Mark, me, Doug and Shelly

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!

Day 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!

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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!”

                                                                   Kiko, me and Nahuel

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.

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There was still some beautiful scenery, and more Camino wisdom.

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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.

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298 kilometers to Santiago. Vamos!

Days 23-25: 307 miles walked, 193 miles to go!

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.

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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.

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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 sight.

We were out in farmland, so the only vehicles we saw were tractors.

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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.

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 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 :).

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I didn’t regret for a second turning right at that crossroad.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

But I do miss snuggling with my cat!  :)

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.”

                                                                    Me, Harry, Tracy and Jisoo

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.

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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.

                                                     Jesús, Harry, me, Tino and Tracy

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.

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 Tracy, Claude and Michele

 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.

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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.

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Although I’m more spiritual than religious, it was a good reminder of the origins of the Camino I was walking.

Day 25:  I started the walk this day with a video to help convey the feeling of what it is like to walk the Camino:

Afterwards, I focused the remainder of the day on honoring and remembering my friend Susana. 

I was walking up to the highest point of the Camino, 1500 meters above sea level, to the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross).  It’s a tradition to bring a stone from your place of origin and leave it behind on the mound of rocks the cross sits above. I brought two polished glass stones for me and Susana. I chose glass because of its fragility and beauty but also its strength and durability. And I picked out a dark stone and a light stone to encompass the opposites life gives you: pain and joy, evil and goodness, love and hate, the easy and the difficult.


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 walked and let myself drift into my memories of her. I thought back to when my friend Shelagh and I had first moved to Madrid after grad school over two decades before and met this 5 foot sassy, hilarious and refreshingly untraditional woman who felt like a true friend immediately. I could be my unguarded silly self with her from the moment I met her. Susana was with us the whole year we lived there going out to bars, restaurants, traveling around Spain. After I moved to San Francisco, she came to stay with me several times, I visited her in Madrid in 1998, and even stayed with her and her sister May for a month in 2004 when they were teaching Spanish in Osaka, Japan. Then Susana and I lost contact for a time as she was traveling and teaching in other countries, and well life happens. Then when I was going back to Spain in 2016 for the first time in 18 years, I tracked her down, and Susana said, “Yay, you found me!” Then she let me know she had just had to quit her job in England to move back to Madrid to start cancer treatment. We messaged almost daily for a year, and it was awful to know how much my friend was suffering from the treatments. Eventually she lost her several year battle, but I got to visit her one last time. She had lost all her hair due to chemo, but when we sat down together, it was all laughs and smiles.

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.

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          Susana and I in Madrid 1996                                Susana and I in Madrid in 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Days 26-28: 355 miles walked, 145 miles to go!

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.

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I 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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.


All day 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.

However as I started to climb, I was sweating, but I felt like the fever had gone and my sinuses were clear. I hadn’t taken any breaks that day, only once to strip off my layers of clothing down to shirt sleeves, but somehow I was feeling better than when I started that morning even though it was hotter and the climb more strenuous. The climb was two hours with the majority of it going up up up.

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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.

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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.”


We arrived 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.

Next, another couple arrived and it was Andreas and Chris, the German couple who dined with me and the brothers from Barcelona, and I had
run into several times since. They both looked in bad shape. They also had not meant to take the mountain road. They both had the Camino cold, and also poor Chris additionally had a bladder infection and was on anti-biotics. About an hour later, the older woman, Marge (pronounced Mar-ha), who I had given the handfuls of nuts to earlier, arrived and looked completely exhausted. Same story. She had not intended to take the harder route, and she had even sent her backpack ahead to another albergue along the flatter Camino route which meant she had no clean clothes to change into, so she couldn’t take a shower. Ana helped call the other albergue, and they sent her backpack by taxi which arrived a few hours later. All of them spoke German, and none of them spoke Spanish, so Ana asked me to translate quite a bit, and I was happy to help. She even jokingly asked if I’d like to stay and work there.

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.

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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.

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I 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.

Hmmm, tempting.


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.

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The Camino, like life, had its ups and downs, but that day’s ups were really bringing me down :).

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                                                                                                                                   Horse tease

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.

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And I joined them.


And then as I was sunning myself, Roxanne arrived! So great to see my friend. A beautiful piece of home! 

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Roxanne 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.

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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.

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Days 29-32:
408 miles walked, 92 miles remaining!

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.

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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 

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We stopped in different churches and shops to get more Camino stamps in our Pilgrim’s passports and we enjoyed the day.

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                                                                Camino-style laundry line

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.

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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.

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It turned 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.

As we walked, I also tried to capture the always beautiful surroundings.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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We even came across a bagpiper as the instrument is also native to the Galicia region in Spain we were walking through.

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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!!


Days 33-35: I made it to Santiago, the official end of the Camino! 455 miles walked, 45 miles to go to the ocean!   

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.

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But nature was still keeping an eye on me… 


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.

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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.

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As I 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.

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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.

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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.

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The walk was beautiful and bittersweet.


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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.

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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!!


He is getting one rest day and then tomorrow we hit the road and walk until our feet are in the ocean

Days 36-39 (and beyond): 500 miles walked from east to west across Spain to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre! 36 walking days, 3 rest days.

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.

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The poor 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!

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                  Doug and Shelly                                            Gustavo and Rob                                   Yvette and Gustavo

And as 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 doing.

We hung out with them sampling all the amazing seafood the Galician region was famous for.

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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.

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 It started out with a quiet walk along a beautiful river with a light rain.

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Now it was time for Rob to relax post-finals, stop and smell the roses, and enjoy the peaceful countryside.

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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!


After taking 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. 

We waited for 2 hours but the rain just seemed to be coming down harder!

More 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.

And then we laughed some more:

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                                                                                                                                             This still makes me laugh              


Finally, we arrived at our albergue Casa Vella! We were saved!


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.


Day 38: After the rough weather the day before, we walked out into a lovely sunny day the next morning. Some grey clouds remained along the way so the potential of rain still loomed, but things were looking great and we enjoyed every dry moment of the walk with the birds singing and the sun shining.

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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.

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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.

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The day continued to be stunning and I was so happy that Rob was able to experience it.

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As we walked, we could see the effects of the intense storm from the day before.

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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.

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 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.

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As we carried on with our walk that day, we experienced some moments of very light showers but overall the day was beautiful and Rob and I largely had the Camino to ourselves, so I did something I hadn’t done my entire walk: I played music on my phone speakers (no headphones), so we had a lovely soundtrack for much of our walk that day.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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But our view of the water was brief as we cut back inland toward Finesterre.

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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…


                                                                                                                                     The ocean!


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.


We carried on, walking at a leisurely pace and even as I write this, I find myself slowing down and not wanting yet to arrive. 

We walked along a quiet and peaceful promenade that ran parallel to the beach.

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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.

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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!

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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!


Emma’s husband 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. 

Rob and I carried on. And then we arrived!

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                                                                                                             The lighthouse of Finiesterre

When I 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.

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I 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 accomplishment. 

I took off my pack and laid out the gear that were all like old friends and a reminder of what had helped get me there.

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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!


Afterwards, Emma, 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.

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 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.


Endings can 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. 

The Camino provided so much in so many ways that I’m still processing it all, but here are some quick reflections on what the Camino meant to me and how I think it might have changed me:

>>I feel like I am better now at slowing down and quieting my impatience that can needlessly cause me daily aggravation and stress.

>>I’m a walker now. I plan to incorporate walking into my life every day, even days when I’m tired or don’t think I have time. I want to head into my next decades healthy, strong, and getting there on my own two feet. I will also continue to seek out and walk more Caminos. I have not seen the last of a bunk bed or a blister!

>>Spain 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!

>>I know now that I need to unplug way more and get out in nature. Less TV, less movies, less Facebook, even less music when I walk. And more nature. SF is a beautiful and lively city but I don’t think humans were meant to be surrounded by so much concrete all the time. Walking out in nature with no cars and no buildings is like drinking in a cure when I didn’t know I was sick.

>>Don’t sweat the small stuff. Seriously, excuse my language but let that shit go! 

>>Do not underestimate the power of the mind and human will. I saw repeated lessons of this on the Camino. I saw all kinds of people walking the Camino: old, young, overweight, injured. I met many who were overcoming serious physical injuries and they walked on. I met some who said they were not at all in shape and they walked on. The notion that you can do anything you set your mind to is real. It is powerful. Believe it.

>>The Camino is a repeated lesson of the importance of people, community and the value of being kind to each other. People matter, stuff doesn’t. I want to move forward with the guiding philosophy that love should always win and lead all choices and decisions, big and small. When in doubt, I will try to always err on the side of kindness and compassion.

>>Oh and travel. I was a traveler before but I have only just scratched the surface. I want to travel more and for longer periods of time and I sure am not afraid of a little rough travel now. The world is a big place and a plan to see a lot more of it!

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!

Gran Canaria:

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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.

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And then back on home to my crazy, frenetic, vibrant city…I was one small changed fish returning to her big bustling pond: