Camino de Santiago Day Thirty: Sarria to Gonzar-Serenity

30 04 2018

We slept amazingly well in the large room of bunks at the monastery. We wanted to get an early start but found ourselves sleeping until 7! When we’d gathered our things we went to the kitchen to eat some of our snacks and found all the children in the school group getting ready to go. They were swarming the sink to wash their dish kits and drying them and stashing them in small packs to be transported to their next meal site. Their actual packs were all over the lobby and everyone was getting outfitted in their rain gear as we finally had a rainy morning after so many days of clear weather.

The noise was a lot for a non “morning person” like me but I got out my tray of boquerones (white anchovies in oil and vinegar) and started eating them. As the children filed out two older Spanish men came in. One introduced himself and then proceeded to tell me the health benefits of Herbalife for whom he is apparently a salesman. The other offered me some sliced pineapple and it was clear I could not refuse so I had a nibble he presented me off the fork he was eating from.

It was their first day, and the Herbalife guy kept showing the other guy all the gear he’d brought, much of it was these jars of protein powder and different sippy cups with measuring lines for mixing the protein shakes. I expected him to pull out a blender or a set of Ginsu knives and some Sham-wow towels too.

I wanted to be friendly but every few minutes he’d try to give me a mini sales pitch and even when I filled my water bottle he was pushing another scoop of powder pointing to the health benefits listed on the jar in small print that my bleary eyes could not read.

“Solamente agua, gracias” I said, only water, thanks. He slunk back to his friend to show him his new GoPro camera and take a selfie video. I wanted to scream, “I don’t need your protein powder guy, I’ve just walked for 29 days. Leave me alone!” Ugh.

We’d been warned that in Sarria there’s a confluence of pilgrims meeting up but additionally it’s the last big area where pilgrims can begin the Camino and still get the Compostela or credential of completion in Santiago. They have to get two stamps per day to do so. This means an influx of new people.

Despite this information we were ill prepared for what awaited just outside the door. We left in some light mist and headed towards the path to find streams of pilgrims. Huge tour groups mixed with smaller groups of four and six people that clogged up the narrow path making footing difficult as there we’re so many around. Lots would take photos in awkward places creating bottlenecks. their brand new rain pants went swish swish swish between their thighs and some wore light colored sneakers that they gingerly tried to prevent getting muddy further slowing this plodding herd.

We looked at each other in horror. What had become of our Camino? From behind we heard incessant chatter, a cacophony so loud it drowned out the birdsong. Those that used poles weren’t in our rhythm so we couldn’t find our pace and we had to look out for those whose poles were in their arms as they’d turn back to holler in the distance to their friends and almost take us out.

I couldn’t take it so I started making some strategic moves to overtake these people. Suzy and I put on our lightning Achilles feet and started smoking the small groups being sure to wish them “Buen Camino” as we snuck by in single file. At first we tried to politely say .”Permiso” or excuse me to warn of our approach but we eventually gave that up. These folks were just oblivious, just clueless or gabbing with their group in a line that completely spanned the trail. We trailed these types and when we found a window took our moves both from the right, the left and even the middle when we had to. The game was on.

After much maneuvering we found that the hill was making us way too hot in rain gear and other than some cloud and mist the rain seemed to have gone. We shed some layers only to find all the people we smoked rushing past us. When we shed some layers and got resorted we actually found we had to wait to merge back into the group and do it all again.

All of the things we could comfortably do this past four weeks became a challenge. Taking a photo meant that we’d have to merge into the herd again. Suzy has become accustomed to finding a discrete spot for a “pee-tour” when necessary but now it became impossible. We couldn’t blow snot rockets (I don’t anyway but…) and we couldn’t readjust our underwear. Everywhere seemed to have a line.

We trudged on incredulous about these new pilgrims with their clean clothing, their shoes not caked in mud and cow pies. Their fancy new feet and bright energetic smiles. I don’t think I was jealous but maybe jaded. Each day in a different Albergue for four weeks… the boring Africa hot days on the Meseta. All that we had experienced and seen, yet these people would do this trip in about five days, 100km or so.

We ran into the Bavarians from a few days ago, they’d gotten lost yesterday, like really lost, and were out of water so they’d gone to a house they found and asked them to call them a cab to Sarria. We griped with one another about the new influx of people and how the Camino had shifted its paradigm.

We found a cafe and opted to stop but it looked like apres ski at Heavenly in Tahoe, it was Sunday granted. Suzy went in to get coffees for us and wait in line. To our horror as we sat there hoards more pilgrims were flooding in. The coffee line grew… the plates and cups stacked up and the line for the bathroom grew to about thirty people. There were no tables but we found some chairs. No joke tour busses began dropping off more people to make part of the walk no doubt. It was all just a bit much for us. Remember we have seen very few people this last four weeks! Even in big towns we are used to less humanity. It was honestly daunting. I felt completely off kilter.

No bathroom stop here for me so on we went until miraculously we came across a bar that looked empty. We walked in and I ordered a beer as Suzy ambled toward the aseos (bathroom). Immediately the owner hollered to her, something like, “Can I help you? Where do you think you’re going?” It was in Spanish of course. Suzy replied that of course she was going to have a beer too and he begrudgingly allowsd her to access the bathroom. I followed her soon after worried that the teeming march of pilgrims were on our heels.

As we sat there pilgrims would come in the door and peer around and make a run towards the back where they knew the restroom was and each time he’d thwart them and send them along if they didn’t buy anything. It was a really nice bathroom after all and it is appropriate pilgrim etiquette to at least buy something to use the facilities. Some young kids clearly desperate for a toilet scraped together enough for a coffee. Two people in Busch Gardens blue ponchos were dismissed back out the door. the scene was pure comedy. The surprised faces of each pilgrim caught trying to make a run for the restroom had us snickering.

The two older local men at the bar also seemed to be silently enjoying the scene, drinking their beers. The female owner came out to ask if they’d like a pintxo, snack free for buying a beer. The big guy to our left said yes, tortilla. He must have been a regular because she screamed at him something along the lines of “Do you think I’ve got time to make tortilla for you and your (insert expletive).”

She, Natalia, came out with a plate of warm slices of bread each with a great piece of sausage on top. She presented one to each of us. It was just what we needed.

A very old pilgrim in a Crocodile Dundee hat sauntered in and ordered warm milk. Natalia had to go get it and it came in tall jars that had photos of a structure we’d seen along the way. She told us these are the traditional storage units for corn. The milk was not homogenized so she had to shake it up a lot to mix it.

The owner finally shut the front door to stop the deluge of pilgrims but they still trickled in and out constantly. It would have made me crazy too, we began to understand their initially brusque welcome.

The man to our right grabbed a second pintxo off the plate so Natalia gave him another beer and poured another for the other guy too. To the guy on the right she said, “Would you like another pintxo?” “Quieres otro pintxo?” He said, “Que?” “Quieres otro pintxo?” “Que?” He again replied. Finally in exasperation she screamed “Quieres otro pintxo?!!??!?”

We burst into laughter.

She stormed over to guy in the left and asked him if he’d want another pintxo and he said, “Si, tortilla…” saucily. She turned on her heel and off to the kitchen. She returned soon and presented him with a plate. On it was a kitchen ticket that said “tortilla” with a toothpick thrust through it. We were bent over howling with laughter, all the stress of the morning released as we cried and laughed.

We headed out again through some rain once more and went on and on. I’ve gotten adept on the downhills and despite the rain they weren’t too slippery so at times I took off on my “goat feet” planting each pole ahead of me strategically and scampering down the hills. Suzy followed a little back behind me.

We didn’t stop again until a fork in the road before Portomarin where we needed to make a choice and saw Richard coming up behind us. He filled us in on the progress of some of our other friends from before. We headed right on an easier path and he and his friend headed left. We approached a huge river and noticed the squall just minutes before we were pelted by rain and wind. We were only in shirts so we quickly got our rain gear on just in the nick of time as the storm opened up above us. No where to hide we made our way to a narrow sidewalk with the large river flowing below and traffic to our left. The big wind was pushing me from the side, as if someone was pushing my pack and trying to throw me down. Some gusts came from the other direction. I just kept looking at my feet on the slippery surface and praying, this kind of bridge gives me some pause even under normal conditions, but with the driving rain? I looked ahead once to only see a huge set of stairs I’d need to climb when I got there. I eventually made it but it was scary.

Portomarin is stingy with their yellow arrows so we got turned around before heading back out of the town. Then another ascent through some beautiful mossy woods, then an area of windswept fields and finally some scary witchy woods, some burnt trees and lots of quartz boulders scattered around. It was eerie the trees cried and screeched in the wind. It was a bit scary.

We finally got to Gonzar and were welcomed into a stone house with a wood burning stove. We had a great pilgrim welcome and a peaceful evening.

it took a lot to regain serenity today. I find you must do what it takes to create your own peace. You must extract yourself from whatever makes you full of angst. Build your own place to be quiet and peaceful. Find serenity in your heart.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Nine: Fonfria to Sarria- Hunger

29 04 2018

I slept well in Fonfria but the rest of the Albergue was annoyed by the big man sleeping under me who snored the whole time. He didn’t bug me, I found it rhythmic enough to be soothing. I guess I’m getting used to this crazy life. Suzy also had an ongoing battle over the window throughout the night. It was very hot in the room and in the upper bunks even hotter so she was fighting for our oxygen. I felt a little racy as I took off my Smartwool sweater and slept in my bra and silk sleep sack. It was so damn hot.

I felt less risqué the next morning when all the ladies were running around in only tshirts and panties. In the bathroom there were only two sinks. While I brushed my teeth I was amazed to see a woman in her underwear and tshirt suddenlt take off the tshirt. Bare breasted she proceeded to use the other sink to wash her armpits splashing around like a bird in a birdbath. I was a little overwhelmed and confused as to why she wouldn’t use the shower.

I should have eaten breakfast but I was working on my blog over coffee and luckily ate a banana. I figured we would stop soon. We walked past very pretty hills with tons of running water streaming through the moss and down the hills. We were up so early that the fog hadn’t burned off yet and we were in the sun above the clouds. We were lucky since it was only 35 F, and no rain or snow thankfully.

We peeked into a cowbarn and saw a baby cow eating breakfast from his momma cow’s udder. After Tricastela there was not much to see. Cowtown after cowtown after cowtown. Occasionally there would be a sheep or rooster. We never saw a cafe or bar. We just kept going. There was a long climb with some wet muck and stones to navigate and we took some time to watch a bossy cow in the field making the other cows get up from where they were resting, just because she could.

We wound up again on a paved road and past more of the heather fields of purple which contrasted the gorgeous spring green of the tree leaves that had just burst out.

Of course what goes up must come down so then began our steep descent. Very steep. Rocky in places and very long. We wound through more towns and saw a cute donativo site to grab a snack but really wanted our lunch stop so we kept going. My stomach was growling. I took photos of livestock to distract myself.

After many hours of this we approached Furula, As we walked toward the highway Suzy noticed an Albergue with tables outside but I suggested that the first one is not always best so we should go on. My heart dropped as we approached yet another cow town. Literally nothing but cows. I stayed back five paces because I really figured this might be it. For four weeks we have had utter patience with each other but if Suzy wanted to get mad, this was her chance! And Jackson (her walking stick) is long. But as I caught up to her she wasn’t mad and didn’t want to punch me in the face. So we kept going.

Finally we found a little bar with decent food but there was no time for photos we just needed to eat. It was fine nothing to write about sadly. We’d walked 12.5 miles in five hours without a break.

We headed on again and met up with some men from Canada and Nova Scotia, they walked fast but they’d been on the alternate route, our more direct and steep route was shorter but harder. They walked so fast that before we knew it we hit Sarria and went up the long set of steps and steep climb to reach our Albergue Magdalena in the Monastery.

The place was really empty when we got there and Julio the hospitalero was very helpful and friendly. The place was immaculately clean and we started some laundry and grabbed a bottle of wine from their little store.

We showered up and Julio told us that there was a supermarket two blocks away, well it was two blocks from the BOTTOM of the hill, but it was a big one and had everything we could need. We stocked up on food, cheese, meats and bought a half kilo of gambas for dinner.

Back at the Albergue we settled in to have our meal and a large group from a school was arriving to have their meal. They were about 14 years old and heading on the Camino as part of a class for credit. There were two men cooking chorizos and soup with fideos and hey doled these out to the kids who all had their own plates, cups and forks to eat with.

It was so fun to watch the mayhem of all these kids. Many spoke English as well. After they retired we snuck upstairs to get the guitar and play a few songs for Julio and then happily fed we headed to bed. It was a lot of commotion, many more people than we’d seen in a long time. There were also new pilgrims arriving with clean boots and tight pants unlike the clothes hanging off of us. They’re bright and eager and full of adrenaline. I wouldn’t call us weary, but perhaps we are a bit jaded and a little miffed that they’re in our space suddenly.

At lunch today we discussed our next move. We are hungry pilgrims! Both physically and mentally. We are vying for another big move tomorrow… we want to get there. We see our goal in sight and want it so badly. Hungry.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Eight: Las Herrerias to Fonfria (Four weeks walking) Exhileration

28 04 2018

We slept so well in our quiet little stone room with the sound of the rushing river outside that the abrupt and powerful voices of the Spanish and Italian guest (only three of them!) were jarring to me. It’s rough being a night owl on the Camino. I just am not so friendly in the morning. I try to focus on writing up the rest of my blog and such and stay out of the fray. Breakfast was basically coffee and bread, not my kind of meal but not much else in that town really. We had really done our best to rise early and get out the door at 8, but then I had some blog issues. Finally at 8:05 we hit he road and about a block from the Albergue Suzy and I both realized how damn cold it was! Be careful what you wish for because our early summer had turned into winter with 40F, wind and overcast conditions! I had a short sleeve and a long sleeve on but quickly pulled out my favorite puffy jacket and even gloves. Today was all about changeable weather and adaptation. I literally had to change my outfits probably five or six times! Suzy ran back to get her cozy hood and gloves and soon we were back on track.

We passed through Las Herrerias and saw a lot of cows with their melodic low bells clanging and munching on the very green grass. We also saw a few of the horses that they rent to summit O Cebreiro. We had learned last night that one of the hospitaleros Gabrielle from France and most recently there from San Francisco has a day job riding the ponies back down to Las Herrerias. No one had rented them today.

The climb began on a quiet road and eventually wound down then up a road alongside more grazing bovines and the ever rushing river. Very idyllic to hear the birds, the water, the low clanging of their bells as a backdrop to the rhythmic tick tick of my poles.

Soon we entered a very verdant switchback trail through a lush almost tropical area. We began to leave the cows below and were surrounded by stone walls with wild flowers popping out of them, trees erupting through rock outcroppings and green ferns. I was struck by the amazing vibrant colors of this almost hidden wonderland. I also saw big black slugs basking in the shady dampness. The temperature was perfect, cool and damp, almost cold but we were walking up a steep and rocky trail so our bodies were warm.

We got to a cute town La Faba which would have been a cool place to stay. There was a cute place on the corner but we were feeling strong so we didn’t stop, but we really liked the vibe. We headed in to the next town La Laguna where we saw that every house had a barn underneath it. Other than a small bar there didn’t seem to be much else in the town but the cows as evidenced by quite a collection of cow squirts making brown Jackson Pollack splashy polka dots all over the bright white roads of the town.

We now reached some rougher road that was more open and less protected by foliage and began to see sweeping vistas and mountains covered in purple scrub brush. It got hotter, so the jacket came off and I went with just the shirt. We kept climbing. We joked that it was always steepest before the flats as we polished off each section of incline. As we rose we were unable to see the top of the hill due to fog keeping it out of view.

Eventually we started wrapping around and around the mountain and constantly going up. We crept out of sunshine and Into the fog which was spitting little droplets at us, and the wind picked up so the jacket and gloves went back on. At a certain point we hit the border with Galicia and with it a post that said we were about 156 km from Santiago! We kept going and as we climbed up into he gorgeous town of O Cebreio. As we went in I felt an incredible sense of exhilaration. My legs burned a bit and I did have to pause at times to catch my breath but basically we had climbed about 100 meters per km walked in told. According to the iPhone it was 49 floors in 5.2 miles, and we had done it in just three hours.

We took some time to visit the primitive house structure of this region a palloza. There was a great tienda (store) selling all types of Camino souvenirs but of really high quality along with local cheeses, meats and honeys. If I’d been driving I would have loaded the car.

Somehow we have a sixth sense when it comes to food so although some of he cafes close to the main part of the town looked cute we walked just a little further and then a little further than that to find Meson Anton pulperia.

As we entered the chef and bartender was running in with a good sized veal chop to present to two Korean men. Before Suzy could get settled in I’d ordered what they mean to eat for dessert for our starter, I just had to try the local O Cebreio cheese with O Cebreio honey.

The cheese came out like a huge slice of cake drenched in darker golden honey that oozed all over the plate. This was a fresh and crumbly cows milk cheese that melted easily in your mouth with the honey. The honey itself was very complex with lots of floral notes but a lot of deep almost nutty earthy notes. It reminded me of chestnut honey. It was decadent and amazing!

While we pondered our next step menu-wise the ternera (veal) chop came out sizzling. We knew we had a long day and that much god would slow us down so we opted to go for the specialty the pulpo. It came out on a wooden plate drenched in very tasty olive oil. Perfectly chewy and toothsome this version finally had some tentacles, my favorite, but was less spicy than the one from Ponferrada. The portion for 13 Euros was also huge. A lot of the time the pilgrim menu is worthwhile but sometimes it’s more cost effective to load up on protein. I’m not into dessert anyway so sometimes the menu isn’t the best bet.

Upon leaving the restaurant we found O Cebreio even more socked in with fog almost San Francisco style. It was blowing and so bitterly cold! The San Francisco feel was foreshadowing because the hills we were about to traverse were as steep as San Francisco streets. The “descent” went up down and around many times around the mountain and was covered in fractured slate which was easy to slip on. For each descent I loosened my pack straps to focus the weight on my heels and then for the ascent had to cinch them up again. These downward slopes can really mess with your knees, so the poles were helpful to prevent slipping and to take the weight off the knees by placing them further in front.

Finally by the time we got down the mountain I’d warmed up and the sun appeared and the jacket came back off, and the shirt. We continued to climb and we picked up an area along the road. Still climbing we reached an area where the wind and the clouds increased and the jacket had to come back on.

After weaving through some towns and seeing some chickens running around we reached the end of a small town to find a very steep ascent. Despite some cold wind and cloud we took the jackets and shirts off to hit this hard knowing we’d end sweating by the top. This was the highest climb to Alto de Poio at 1335 meters. It was so steep that it would have been hard to stop in places without losing your footing. Once at the top we were greeted by a flock of chickens and a cafe where we got two glasses of vino tinto to celebrate our accomplishment and watch others including cyclists come up the difficult hill. We enjoyed the chickens and also a huge very sweet dog.

After eating some toasted corn snacks and nuts (and feeding some to the chickens) and a selfie with the dog we felt invigorated by the wine and took off on a quick 40 minute jaunt for the last 3.5 km to our Albergue A Reboleira. We got there just ahead of a large group of pilgrims and it was good we’d reserved as there were not many beds left despite it being a large Albergue.

We settled in and found that the showers and the room were very clean and comfortable. The showers were roomy and had boxes inside with hooks where you could store your clothes without them getting wet. They hosted a communal meal in their very own palloza across the street where we were brought steaming tureens of vegetable soup, and then steaming platters of beef stew with mushrooms and the sweet red piquillo peppers. Bottles of house wine were popped and drained and then more popped and replaced. As soon as. Plate was almost empty it was replaced. Food was available in abundance and was absolutely delicious and satisfying. We couldn’t believe the value of this meal, more than you could eat or drink for 9 Euro. After a nightcap and some fun discussion with some Bavarians who suggested I come to Oktoberfest (and why not?) it was off to bed.

Tomorrow is another big jump. While today was only 12.8 miles we did the equivalent of 77 floors! Tomorrow to Sarria, a big distance but will be worth it, we are hoping to jump ahead to miss the rains and/or snow predicted.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Seven: Cacabelos to Las Herrerias-Encouragement

27 04 2018

It’s amazing you could spend all day trying to get to a town only to then forget where you’re sleeping. Life from town to town is like that though… and you pass through so many places! Some you want to remember… others you’d rather forget. But tonight I’m in a great town, it just took forever to get here to… Las Herrerias.

We awoke in our awesome semi-private room. We’d been granted a three person room with a balcony at La Gallega in Cacabelos and luckily had another woman with us and a bathroom attached to the room. Amazingly clean and comfortable to be able to shower without a trek with all your gear. Yesterday I’d made a ploy to make a big move in terms of the distance and we opted to go all the way to Las Herrerias, I checked the guides this morning only to chuckle to myself that it was funny I’d picked a town based on metal, Herrerias are iron workers or blacksmiths. My last name Chapa has everything to do with any type of metal apparently… in Venezuela it means the tab in a beer can, in Barcelona a top/cage on a bottle of Cava, in other southern parts of Spain a tin roof. In the last few days auto body repair… ironically the name I’ve discovered really comes from an Italian name, Sciapapria, shortened to Chapa when they reached the Americas.

its a crazy story, while trying to get my father’s birth certificate from Mexico, which by the way he was never able to get while living…, I found it a ton of information about my ancestry.

The founding father of the town where my father was born in Mexico was named Juan Batista Chapa. He came to the town from Liguria in Italy and became the scribe of General Leon writing the history of Northeastern Mexico and Texas in the mid 1600’s. Back in Italy his family owned vineyards.

As a wine writer the similarities to my family ancestor seemed uncanny to me, but honestly not really a surprise.

Whenever I’d travel to Italy the Italians would say, “Italiana?” And I’d reply, “No,media Mexicana!” And then they’d say, “Ma, no… Italiana!” knowing my features even better than I did. Juan Batista came to the Americas from Cadiz in Southern Spain, but I wonder…

Maybe the Roman group of Chapas or Sciapaprias roamed these lands. Could this be why the route at some points is so familiar to me? Or is it an angel that guides me through the big towns? I have had an unusually good sense of direction navigating these towns.

We fueled up with a big breakfast and once more headed out just as the bells rang 9. My toe is much improved and I can almost bend it without wincing in pain. I think it’s related to the day coming down the mountain from Cruz de Ferro. I honestly believe it’s related to the fear I had, when I’m scared I think I tense my toes in my boots trying to grip the terrain so as not to lose my footing and this aggravated the joint. So yesterday and today I opted for a new strategy. Relaxing my toe while walking, moving my water bottle to the opposite side of the pack to redistribute the weight and also wearing my Darn Tough socks, they’re thinner and leave some extra room in my shoe. Darn Tough by the way have a lifetime return policy and these are replacement socks for some I wore out!

We meandered on our route making some good time through some vineyard areas. In spots when you first glance at them the vines look almost like a flock of geese landed in a field all haphazard. Most of the day led us through small towns. Some cute and quaint, others literally falling apart and abandoned ghost towns. We wished we knew why and how some made it while others languished. Then it was on to the larger town of Villafranca where we took a break to get a snack and regroup.

Villafranca is a lovely valley town but we didn’t have time to stick around and kept on leaving our idyllic small town scenery and hitting the highway. It’s important to note that there’s a variant of the route you can take up and over the mountain. No doubt it must be nicer but it’s a lot more strenuous. Luckily a local was there as we were looking at that junction and promoted us to take the low road.

We wound around the road which was tight and had very little shoulder until we got to a larger stretch with a concrete barrier protecting the pilgrims. Very few pilgrims out here for some reason. We joked that they must be on the bus being transported to the next pretty location. Luckily we had the roaring bubbling river to our left which added scenic interest and a good breeze going but it was another very bright sunny day and as the afternoon wore on got hot. Small bits of shade became less and less and the asphalt we walked on was also giving off lots of heat. Occasionally we’d pass a small town and we stopped once more in a tiny town for bar snacks and a beer so we could use their restroom. We refilled our waters and headed onward. We even found a place with fair trade coffee in Trabadelo and Suzy stopped for an iced coffee there.

It seems that despite being a town focused on work and its wood business that this town is too busy selling wood to actually make a sign for pilgrims, and all the wood we saw was unfinished so thus must explain why they couldn’t paint any yellow arrows at the edge of town. After the coffee shop we saw nothing to indicate where to go. We started walking in what we thought looked like the right direction and a man said to us that we were going to get a lot of sun today, so we figured we were going the right way. We ran into a curve that looked like it went to the same place and stumbled upon a stable, it was empty but if you had a horse you could board it there. I really wished I had a horse! It was so so hot and we started going uphill again. Suddenly it looked like we were totally leaving the highway, so we stopped and pulled out the guide. Turns out we were heading on the high route but in the opposite direction. If we were to continue onward we would have ended up back in Villafranca at that crossroads where we took the low road.

So we went back down, luckily we figured out our mistake soon. We went on and back to the highway. There was a sign telling pilgrims to stay off the road but eventually our cement guard opened us out into the highway proper again but now with no shoulder at all. Trucks were whizzing by us as they were exiting the bigger highway to get to the truck stop hotel. Once again we referred to he guide to be sure we were headed in the right direction.

On and on and on. The road offered up a little shoulder as we walked along and the scenery and towns were lovely but walking on the highway is stressful as you have to be constantly vigilant. Luckily the scenery was gorgeous despite being on he road, although it was strange to see the huge highway supports now popping up around these small towns with the huge span stretching over the fields and some of the small hotels and homes. We enjoyed communing with some ducks as well.

The afternoon wore on and got hotter and hotter, about 75 which doesn’t seem hot if you’re not walking with a 20 pound backpack. The shade went away. We sweated and I wanted to start crying. But I didn’t. I was becoming crabby and even more so. Cause I was the one who orchestrated this ingenious plan to make a big jump forward.

Encouragement comes when you need it. Having a walking partner helps as they help make you feel like you’re a whiny bitch and urge you forward.

Every now and then we would get a brief respite from the wind, a little cooling breeze to urge us onward. Like a small ember that breeze would reactivate our energy just briefly enough to keep one foot in front of the other. A little burst of water coming off the mountain let us wet our bandanas briefly and wash our hands in its welcoming icy water. We would take turns hollering “Ultreia!” which means “Keep going!” Occasionally a car or cyclist or ladies sitting on a bench would honk or yell “Buen Camino!” We might see a pretty field of cows. And this would inspire us to keep walking. I’m not sure how I’d be able to do this without these bursts of inspiration and encouragement. It helps that we have a deadline. It helps that the bag gets dropped. Y Jacotrans at the next Albergue, we cannot stop before that… we have to hit our mark daily. And each night as we plan for the next day our adrenaline and clean showers and a little red wine help encourage us to keep going. We forget the feeling of exhaustion and the pain that comes once the feet stop moving as soon as we see the map and see how close we are to getting to Santiago de Compostela.

Our Albergue was sweet, a little hippie spot with a vegetarian menu which I knew wasn’t going to be enough food for what I am accustomed to. It’s called Las Herrerias Miriam. It was gorgeous, all stone with lots of woodwork and exposed beams. Very clean and comfortable. They had a great double room for 21 Euros and there were only three other people there.

We had a great bottle of Biezo wine and a pilgrims menu at a bar next door, Bar Lixa owned my a woman from Holland. She has been in business just one year and her mother was in town to help her with reopening for the season. The food was great and it would have been a great place to stay as well. Important to know that the list given out at the pilgrims office often doesn’t include all the albergues…

I also had a chance to marvel at my very special pilgrim tan, many weird lines that I feel are going to be with me for awhile, a badge of honor I suppose! Tomorrow is a steep climb so we are going to keep the distance somewhat short and are happy to be poised ready for the steep ascent!

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Six:Molinaseca to Cacabelos Nourishment

25 04 2018

The adorable room at Molinaseca would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the woman who shut the window in the middle of the night. The yoga studio like third floor room was a veritable sauna that had me wake sweating. It was not the best. I cannot imagine a Camino in warmer weather. It must be absolutely brutal. It was so nice though to have our beds rather than bunks. All of my clothes are filthy so I just put on the least filthy ones and went.

We were as usual the last people in the room and we dawdled quite a bit as I was finishing up my blog. The hospitalero who was cleaning up the breakfast gave me a cute yellow arrow pin and then soon ushered me out as he needed to clean.

Our walk began and we noticed new spring flowers erupting from the roadside. Orange poppies, wisteria and purple and white lilacs. The purple had a very subtle and elusive smell, but the white were haunting, the smell reaching you even before you sighted them.

The toe hurt a bit on the downhills but wasn’t excruciating. I still can’t understand the toe, I figure there must be something I need to release and it’s coming out as this aggravation in the toe. I tried to keep my foot relaxed in the shoe and not grip with my foot where I didn’t need to. We approached Ponferrada through a valley of suburbs and nice homes with lots of gardens. The day was fully sunny but with a constant cool breeze, very good walking weather.

We entered the town and turned a corner and gasped at the vista of a medieval castle that popped out behind the corner. It was absolutely stunning. We probably would have walked past but a Korean pilgrim was coming down the road and told us that admission was free today so we went up and found that this was the castle of the Knights Templar! We toured around and walked up the steep steps but were too fearful to climb the tall turret around the steep stone circular staircase.

Just steps after the castle we lost our way for a second and back tracked to the visitors center, a truck had been blocking our sign. Good thing we stopped and got a map because the route through the town is very sparsely marked. We were also able to find the Moneygram on the map and set out in the direction of the Camino to find some food and hit the Moneygram later. There were a couple average looking sandwich places and then what looked like an abandoned brand new mall. Very weird area, so we zipped up a side street to the Moneygram. While the cash was being dispersed I googled restaurants on Google maps and found one a mere two blocks away and I got totally lucky.

This place was amazing. We ordered two white wines to celebrate getting cash again and they gave us tapas of chorizo in cider. Then we ordered gambas al ajillo (garlic) and pulpo and it was honestly the best pulpo I’ve ever had, just chewy enough, perfect texture and spice and the gambas? They came out in a sizzling platter with tons of olive oil and garlic and we had brown bread to sop up all the oil. So decadent. We ordered two more wines (the wine portions are small here, honestly) and got a potato tapas with fries ham. When the chef came to see if we liked it all we asked her to recommend one more thing so we got the chichos, a chopped up loose Pork sausage like thing, so delicious. I’m so glad we found this place, Meson del Tres Portinas, it’s well worth a few blocks off the route.

After our feast we hit more suburbs out of Ponferrada and then small little towns along the route. Not that exciting but pretty enough and the scenery changed as we went, but the afternoons are always hard, we have to try to be more like the night vision goggles people… get out earlier but it’s so hard!

We wove through lots of vineyards which are for the local wines of Bierzo, reds made from Mencia. The old gnarled vines were just showing the first signs of life and were starting to bud, sap flowing. We passed a cute trailer called la Siesta where some men invited us to join them but we kept on because we had to do laundry. We came into Cacabelos past the Consejo Regulador office, the group that monitors the wine quality of the region.

Our Albergue La Gallega was in a great spot on a little square with lots of outdoor tables. We got our laundry in and sat outside for our “apres ski” beverages and pulled out the guitar and did a few songs for he group. We ran into Jean again who we’d met at Valverde and Sheila too and a bunch of others. While Suzy was playing I scoped out a restaurant just around the corner that had chuleton!

Once we gathered our clothing it was out to get our meat on. They served us a delicious joven wine, youthful and bright, tart very vibrant violet in color and perfect in its simplicity with this meal. They presented us the steak raw for approval. It was awesome. They served it with a blue cheese sauce and sun dried tomatoes. Carlos, Carlos and “mini” Carlos posed for a photo. We headed back to bed happily satiated. We are going to make a small jump tomorrow to try to get to a spot where Jean is scheduled to be working as a hospitalero later in the week, see if we can shave off some time.

Sometimes the nourishment we receive on his journey is physical, the resources to build muscles, heal bad toes and fuel the work we are doing. I think over the course of these weeks (four!) away from home I’ve changed my body. The pants that were too tight are now baggy. The ones that were comfy are big. They say you can tell where pilgrims started by how heir clothes fit. I’m so grateful for the gifts of sustenance and nourishment I have the opportunity to receive.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Five: Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca Cruz de Ferro-Fear Not

25 04 2018

Despite our nocturnal friend in the room we had a very good rest at Albergue Senda. Somehow we woke late and were once again the last to leave, but that was fine by us. Grab sleep when you can, never pass up a bathroom or an opportunity to get water, this we have learned.

We had a coffee up the street of the very cute Rabanal, a town with many wild kitties. Today was to be a big day, not in kilometers but we’d heard that the descent from Cruz de Ferro or the Iron Cross is very intense.

The walk was lovely, once again a day warming quickly with no clouds in the sky but luckily also no gnats. We wove up a reasonable not too steep path where we saw running water once again, a few streams of runoff to cross and some mucky muck where we almost got a little wet in our boots.

We stopped by a cute shop in Foncebadon for a mineral water and to drool over their selection of artisanal beers and ciders but it was way too early in the day. Foncebadon seemed to have a bohemian vibe and seemed like a good place to stay if you could time it right during your journey as a stop. Suzy bought a stick there and named it Jackson.

We continued up and the ascent didn’t seem as bad as we expected, mostly just switchbacks that lead you up the road. Then it came into view… the Cruz de Ferro. The highest part of the Camino, and perhaps my “Everest”. I’ve been intrigued by amount Everest since I read a John Krakauer article in Outside Magazine once (not sure where I got the issue, outside things are not my things, which is why what I’m doing on the Camino is so weird.) Anyway I do know someone who has summited Everest, and I think that would be incredible, but I know I couldn’t even try… my eyes, terrible vision for one, so many reasons. I’m no mountaineer. So I was pretty excited for the Iron Cross. But now we were here and… it didn’t seem so high honestly and it didn’t seem as big as I’d expected. And I didn’t have a rock from home (I didn’t get the memo) so I’d just picked up two from the road. One was slate and one looked like quartZ. Early in the walk I marveled to Suzy saying, “Check out all these quartz crystals! Do you think we are on an entire mountain of quartz? Is that why this Cruz de Ferro is so important and such a destination?”

So this may be where I may lose some of you, we shall see. I also had big hopes for the Cruz de Ferro for other reasons. For one I have issues with electronics. I apologize for and previous and post issues in these blogs there are days when honestly my iPhone touchscreen just doesn’t work, I type and it bounced five lines ahead and types over what I already wrote. There are days (yesterday) when the battery drains out. I have these issues with my computer, with my iPad, anything electronic. I feel I have a weird magnetic thing sometimes. I know it sounds crazy.

Additionally my father’s mother was said to have Mal d’Ojo, the evil eye. She would occasionally look at someone askance perhaps and then they’d have bad luck so they’d come to her to get it reversed. Whenever we would leave her she’d take her hand and run it down the front of your face to remove any bad feeling she might have sent you and make sure you were safe. I feel sometimes that I have a little sixth sense. I’m very empathetic and can usually tell what people need. I see all the details as you may notice from my posts. I sometimes have very strange coincidences arise that bring me to tears. I have had some very intense experiences with crystals, so much so that I had to stop wearing one crystal because it scared me. I had a premonition about a friend who died in a bicycle accident in college. I was asked by the universe to be present for a woman to help tell her that her husband had been in an accident, and passed on… only to find that I had bought a piece of jewelry that I believe to be magic from him 15 years before.

These are things I cannot explain. I feel a bit witchy sometimes, but not in an evil way. So when we heard that we are coming up to some of the more spiritual areas of the Camino that excited me, we were also told that these areas were the largest gathering place for all the witches covens in Europe. So anyway, for those of you that haven’t yet tuned out…

I was excited for the Cruz thinking perhaps it was a place with special energy. Suzy and I planned to take off our shoes off there and stand in he grass. Maybe this would be my grounding I thought. My soulful moment on my Camino.

The big mound appeared to us around a bend, a huge pile of stones with something like a big electrical pole in it and a tiny little cross on top. I had expected something more breathtaking with maybe a big vista below it at the peak of a mountain. I took a photo. We entered the tiny park nearby where many people were lounging about, some on their cell phones. The grass was sparse and worn in places and there were cigarette butts and broken glass all over. I slowly took off my shoes and found a patch that was slightly better and stood there with my toes on the earth. I felt absolutely nothing.

Too dangerous to go walking around I sat down under the eave of the chapel and wrote on my stones in Sharpie. On the slate I wrote a piece of prose that came to me while walking up the mountain, on the other I wrote words of hope for the future. I figured I’d make this ritual my own, throw the slate behind me towards the cross like you should and the quartz in front for my future. I walked up the heap from the front and stood there for a moment. I prayed and some tears trickled down my face. Where were the messages. Twenty five days and where was the inspiration? Where were my spirit guides? I cried more for those reasons than for any sense of peace from this cross. I threw the slate and then the quartz. We took some photos and were off back down.

We wove around and the descent didn’t seem so bad. And then we saw it, Manjardin. We’d figured we would stop in El Acerbo for lunch but we were immediately drawn to the funky shack that looked to be.m both the beginning and end of the town. Sign posts showed the distance to many places and a big banner announced this as an interpretive site of the Knights Templar, which honestly I still haven’t really downloaded the story of in my brain. We were invited in by a young man in a comic book shirt and army fatigue pants, he asked us to come and rest. Upon entering we appreciated the hodge podge of articles pinned to the walls, shells, trinkets for sale and religious icons in a small alcove. There was no food but we thought it had a great energy so we got two beers in cans and sat under the shade at the entry.

Because my battery seemed to not charge yesterday I’d had my phone in airplane mode mostly except for when I posted a photo of the cross… I’d seen that just an hour earlier Richard one the pilgrims we met way back had posted his photo, weird I thought he was much farther along. On the way down the hill I thought of another person in that group, she had walked a short way with her father, her mother sadly died recently and she and her dad has walked the Camino many times.

Despite the tranquil atmosphere at Manjardin I opened up Instagram and the first photo was of her and her mom. Today would have been her mother’s birthday, and she was feeling sad that she didn’t really feel her presence. I was struck by the fact that just minutes before I’d thought of her, a girl I’ve met maybe two times… I too know how hard anniversaries can be when your loved one is gone, my father Roman died in 1995. I told her that I knew how she felt and that I’d just thought of her, and maybe just maybe her mother was in fact trying to reach her but doesn’t know how to yet and that instead she was here on the Camino asking me to reach out to her.

I started to tear up and cry a bit. A lot of pent up energy and despite all the tears prepping to leave for the Camino very few here on the road.

The hospitalero that had invited us in asked what was wrong, was I ok. I explained that I was fine but just struck by what had just happened. He started talking about the place and that this was his calling to come to this place to learn healing and chakras and reiki. He asked to hug us and when Suzy hugged him he said, “I take a little of your light if you will give it to me?” Of course she said yes. I hugged him and noticed the amethyst around his neck as he gestured to it. I asked “So he white stone is quartz? Very powerful right?” And he said yes of course and then showed us the floor where 15 steps exactly in from the door, for the 15 knights, there was a spot on the floor where you could put your feet on a large block of quartz, and gaze at the icons in the alcove to increase your energy.

He told us he has been here for many years learning from Tomas the last of the Knights Templar all his teachings, he said his is so important the passing of this information to the next generation. All of a sudden I remembered Craig telling us we should meet Tomas and that it was a greatly interesting experience.

Meanwhile people were streaming in and out of the Refugio and some came and asked to see Tomas. The hospitalero told them, “He’s resting”. And they streamed back out.

We sat back down to enjoy our beers and the scene and then noticed that the place had cleared out. The hospitalero (I think his name was Frank) went into a back room and came out to present Tomas to us. We were stunned to have some time with this incredible man. He looked a little like Jerry Garcia with some thick black glasses taped at the nose with black electrical tape. His beard was white and a bit scraggly and he had a rope belt on with his Knights Templar black shirt.

He started speaking to me in Spanish and I caught about 95% of what he said, partially because of the language difference but moreso because of the metaphysical nature of it. We spoke for a long time, there really was no time. I sensed others watching but was fully engaged with him. The rapid fire download of information was so fast that I couldn’t translate for Suzy but knew she was getting the idea. We talked and talked and there is too much to tell, yet it’s not my place to tell to you yet, it was a gift for me for now. I need to help protect Tomas. He did share the story of a writer who had an incredible connection with him, an epiphany, only to then write about him in the New York Times resulting in a surge of “tourigrims” on coach busses coming to catch a glimpse of this “prophet”. He then invited us in to see the Refugio where he does his teaching. Mostly sunlight and a little solar power, no plumbing, no heat, very small and rustic. We couldn’t believe we were invited to see it. He hugged us goodbye and wished us well on our journey.

We left amazed, some other pilgrims asked us what he had told us, I tried to give them a synopsis but don’t think they understood. We continued on an extensive two hours downhill. The rocks jumped out at us and shifted under our feet. It hurt. It was scary but we kept remembering what Tomas had said.

We took a break at El Acerbo, had some lunch and rested our feet then off again another 2 plus hours over and down different and similarly challenging rock. It was so hard, I cannot express. The feeling of desperation tried to creep in so many times.

On fumes we reached Molinaseca only to find our Albergue Santa Marina was at the far end of town. We checked in at about 7:30 pained and tired but happy. Dinner was already in full swing but we were able to hobble back to town and find a place to eat. We also saw a guard pig outside a restaurant that was closed 😉 We enjoyed some gambas and pulpo (octopus) and I rested my toe which is now swollen and angry from the harsh descent.

Today was one of the most physically and mentally challenging days but also so full of gifts. What I’d hoped to find atop the Cruz de Ferro was found in a small valley with a man that you would not notice if he were walking down the street next to you. I can tell you a few pertinent and important things that Tomas kept saying to us. He said that the Camino will provide us with what we are seeking, maybe on the Camino or maybe after, but we must follow two important guidelines. “No tienes miedo y estas abierto.” He said this to me many many times. Do not be afraid and be open, and then your greater purpose will become clear to you.

Fear Not.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Four: Villares de Orbigo to Rabanal del Camino Relief

23 04 2018

We had such a great and peaceful sleep at Albergue el Encanto. I enjoyed a morning shower and Marta had set out a full breakfast feast of ham, cheese, fruit, coffee and juices. Despite our best intentions we still headed out on the late side, 9 am on the dot! Onward we went happy to see a good number of pilgrims enjoying breakfast or snacks already at Arnal restaurant.

Already upon loving Villares de Orbigo the scenery has changed. We hit some nice slopes and wove up around some cute towns. We even saw a gorgeous farm with teenage and baby cows A man was feeding one newborn from a bottle. The day was hot already as there was not a cloud in the sky.

After the farm the trail became inundated with gnats. We could not figure out their agenda. They swarmed us trying to get into our eats and eyes, noses and mouths. I’ve watched Naked and Afraid episodes where biting bugs drive the cast ton madness, their skin covered in welts… these didn’t even bite but over the course of an hour or so were infuriating. And there was no shade. It seemed our sweat attracted then more.

At least the scenery was nice though and soon the tops of some snowy mountains appeared and we begged them to send us a breeze.

Along a straightaway path we came across an enclave where a man had set up a rest stop. He lived there off the grid and offered food to pilgrims for free. He had a box for “gifts” but it was self serve and he was there making his own breakfast. There was all kinds of fruit, bread, jams and even cut melon slices. Just another unique Camino character.

Soon after our short rest we saw the town of Astorga laying below us. Suzy initially thought she’d get cash in Astorga but wouldn’t you know it it was a regional holiday in Leon so even though it was Monday everything was closed. Upon approaching the main square we found the town bustling with energy and a flag balancing competition was going on. After a quick bite and a beer we were off again.

The day was very hot and the route once again became an endless shadess senda along a thankfully less busy highway. It went on and on. Luckily we had a few towns where we could stop to rest for a moment, once at Bar Cris and once at Cowboy Bar.

Our feet were swollen, the sun was burning my knuckles and despite soaking bandanas in cold water we were dripping with perspiration. We convinced ourselves we could do it, but it was long and very hard. We eventually got off the road only to find a steep climb up a lot of fractured rock and then about a mile or two of tree stumps that seemed to want to throw us to the ground. Our leaden feet were so hard to lift off the ground.

Finally we saw the town and luckily our Albergue Senda was the first in the town proper. It is simple but clean but unfortunately our room was dark already when we rolled in at 7:15pm. People were already in bed trying to sleep. We did our best to be quiet as we fumbled around our packs and showered and had a pleasant and tasty pilgrim dinner at the bar next door, gazpacho with a hefty drizzle of olive oil and fried calamari for me. At 9:30 pm the sun was just going down but I crept into bed anyway, so tired and nothing else to do here in this corner of town anyway. 21.7 miles.

Tomorrow is a big day, up a steep slop to the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) the highest elevation on the Camino, but then we are told that the descent is more difficult, very steep and down that fractured slippery rock.

Today was all mental. My feet are ok except one toe, what do you call the toe next to the big toe? Pointer toe? Lol, well it is bruised and angry and hard to bend but only whole in the shoe. No intense pain in the boots at the moment but the heat and the hours and hours of walking can be mentally draining. You just wait for relief. Relief is checking into the Albergue, taking off the boots, getting your body and hair wet and clean, finally getting food, maybe even huddling like we did around a little tree and thanking it for its shade. There are times when relief is elusive our here, quick and fleeting and incomplete. Just as in “the real world” sometimes relief is not offered completely. But a little bit can go a long way if you have faith that relief will be doled out as you need it.

They say the Camino provides you with what you need and so far that has been true.

Camino del Santiago Day Twenty-Three: Valverde del Virgen to Villares de Orbigo- The Gamble

22 04 2018

I think that if I’d started the Camino in Leon I would have given up by now. This long flat slog is so rough. Today it was as if we’d been asked to walk along the New Jersey Turnpike. I think if this were my second day I’d be back in Leon renting an apartment for a few weeks and doing a food tour of the city instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I started the day with a great attitude! What was to be a rainy day started with a perfectly mottled slight sun that eventually became full sun with a bit of humidity.

We had a very restful stay at the Casa del Camino and were excited to set out on another “easy” day going only about 13 miles. Granted I was a little concerned about how short our day was going to be but the next stop would have been Astorga which was just too far. We figured we will just pick up time later.

We did not opt for the breakfast option at the Albergue because it’s usually just bread and jam and Suzy doesn’t eat too much gluten so we headed out and there is really nothing else in the town. Luckily when we hit the outskirts of San Miguel del Camino we happened upon an adorable coffee shop and snack bar. Owner Jonathan has been in business about a year I think and has created an adorable space where you can get food, coffee or sundries to support you on your journey. And there’s a spotless bathroom! It’s his own business and he’s put such care into the details.

Just to note, I’ve not seen a dirty bathroom so far, most are impeccable. Why can’t the US have the same care for their services? I really was expecting at least a few issues but other than the occasional lack of paper or soap.

We headed along and walked and walked again remarking at how glad we’d not walked this far the day before… Especially when we happened upon the hotel we’d called that quoted us a high rate and turned out to be a truck stop. Let’s just say it was not a scenic area.

In Villadangos we came across crazy numbers of ravens in the trees. We went on and on through very sleepy towns with not much activity in any save the constant rush of cars past us. On a stretch of highway it seemed almost scary as cars and motorcycles passed on another. We were relieved to get onto a senda with a swift rushing canal of water rushing past us (it’s the stagnant water that produces he bugs…) We marveled at the incredible skill it took to make this water move along the very flat plain we were walking on. We met a sheep. We almost ran past a particularly stinky field covered with manure and perhaps some other unmentionable additives. We blew dandelions, anything to pass the time. We finally reached San Martin del Camino to grab some lunch.

We started walking again and it was hot. Full sun, no shade. We tried to step into the brush only to find a tree stump teeming with ants. No where to run no where to hide, no respite here and no where to stop and take a rest.

We finally got to Hospital de Orbigo but it was siesta time and it seemed to be shuttered, it was Sunday of course. So we kept on without another break through the heat across some dry and dusty track.

Finally we make it to Albergue El Encanto, a brand new Albergue open only 15 days! Immediately we were greeted by Marta with a warm smile. The place is stunning. Setbariujd a courtyard it was a run down building and barn for animals and hay. Marta had the vision to leave Leon, buy the building and convert it into an Albergue with her brother doing much of the construction. The best is that she has converted this 108 year old building into a comfortable Albergue with all the amenities but the bones of the old structure including the original wood beams and earthen walls, the old huge wood door… but it’s beautifully appointed. The showers and everything were brand new, and it happened that Suzy and I were her only guests!

We enjoyed full reign over the whole dorm room taking lower bunks on opposite sides and each of us “took” one bathroom, no men had even used the men’s room yet. Marta let us get settled and then came by the bar where she recommended we have dinner, well it was really our only option since it was Sunday and the store was closed.

The bar, called Arnal, was really loud because about 25 men were in there playing cards and dominoes. I asked Marta if she knew everyone in the town and was struck by her reply. She has only been in town 15 days, since the day this new Albergue opened!

Marta introduced us to Aranche and Eloy owners of the restaurant. Aranche is a chef who also teaches cooking. They set up a quiet place for us to eat in an upstairs dining room. Turns out we were not only the only pilgrims at our Albergue but probably the only ones in the town that night!

The food for 10 Euro plus wine was insanely good. We had a soup of local vegetables that also had olive oil and goat cheese melted in served piping hot. Then the main was a veal chop perfectly prepared.

Aranche explained that a lot of pilgrim menus just focus on what is cheap but she wants her menus to reflect what is local so that pilgrims can get a sense of the region rather than traveling across Spain just eating burgers and spaghetti. I loved he passion and drive she had. I have a feeling that this town is poised to become a destination on the Camino, I think the pioneer attitude here is great. This region is a challenge as there are a lot of towns that perhaps have seen better days but these folks are making investments in the future, throwing down the dice to see if they can make something happen. I’d implore you to visit Juan Carlos and Sandra (Casa de Camino), Jonathan (the snack bar), Marta (Albergue el Encanto) and Aranche and Eloy (Restaurant Arnal) if you make it here, it’s worth it to reward these people for their passion and commitment to follow their dreams!

I see parallels in my life with my seasonal business The Hungry Minnow out on Nantucket. I miss it. Last year was my first year. I know how hard it is. I cannot wait to get back to it and really make it what I know it can be and follow my dream. As far as the Camino I’m gambling on my feet and hoping they’ll be able to carry me a long 23 miles tomorrow. But I think it’s in the cards. My lucky number is 23, Albergue el Encanto is #23, today was our 23rd day and tomorrow is April 23 and we walk 23 miles so if I were at the roulette table you’d better believe that’s where my money would be.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Two: Arcahueja to Valverde del Virgen-Hope

22 04 2018

It’s hard to believe we have walked so far, and it’s scary to think we have so much farther to go! Despite being up almost all night worrying about our next big jump, we realized in the morning that we would be best off having a reservation at our next stop. The further Albergue wasn’t answering the phone so we made A reservation at Casa de Camino in Valverde instead, and it was a good thing to do for many reasons. We were so thankful that we were steered in that direction.

The walk out of Arcahueja gave we the hill I’d been craving along with some industrial parts and eventually a woodsy entry into Leon. We entered the town early and found a Moneygram where we were hopeful Suzy might pick up some money from home, but the guy there said that they had no money. He said to come back later when maybe I guess he’d have sold enough of the wilted cilantro and brown spotted bananas to give her some money? So the saga continues.

As we walked we entered the city through the Moneda aka money gate, ah the irony! We’d thought we would just sip through Leon that it would be just another big city but we quickly realized that it had a lot more to offer. Luckily our walk was now not as ambitious so we had some time to hang out. We browsed the Saturday flea market checking out some old photos of Mexican Pancho Villa (when I was young my father Roman had restaurants in New York called Pancho Villa’s… these same reproduction photos were on the walls of the restaurant…my father is no longer living, maybe a funny message from him?) This seller also had old food ration tickets which were interesting to see, they were perforated and listed the items you’d be able to get… like una cebolla (one onion).

After a while browsing and musing about being unable to buy anything we headed on to find some lunch. We browsed around the historic sites and saw the outside of the Gaudi building but didn’t really have time to delve into historical tours. Leon would be a great spot to spend some significant time, a great place to start the Camino we thought.

We zipped into a few shops and even found a historic apothecary with gorgeous woodwork inside.

We ran into a pilgrim we’d met in Hontanas who was taking a rest day and then a pilgrim from the Camigas group came to say hello to us with her mother! Nina had been reading the blog in anticipation of her own walk that starts Sunday. It was great to meet a reader in the flesh and even better she told us that the farmers market was going on!

The market was amazing. Rows and rows of produce, plant starters and a row of cured meat and cheese trucks. How great it would be to have a chance to cook with all this great food. This area of town near the main cathedral also boasted a plethora of gourmet food stores. I wanted to take it all home. Our mouths watering we kept desperately looking for food.

We quickly realized that the tapas bars we were seeking were just starting to pull out their tables. There were plenty of really swanky restaurants already open but outside this oilgrim’s budget. I would have loved to do a gintonic tour of this city… We opted to stop walking for a moment and gather ourselves at a swanky bar and have a beer and we’re once again surprised to receive a free slice of tortilla. Basically this is the thing in this region and is so amazingly satisfying. So that was essentially breakfast for us. We waited until just about 1 and we went to be first tapas bar I’d read about on a blog called

El Tizon was our first stop, when we got there just before 1 there was only one older guy there at the bar drinking rose. Suzy ordered a gluten free beer and a glass of Verdejo for me and we each got a tapa! She got two gambas and I got two boquerones and they were served with green olives and pickled garlic cloves. So delicious! We also got a plate of calamares fritos. The food there looked great they had a case of seafood and there were scallops in there but being on a budget and also wanting to try MA y things we decided to do tapas rather than raciones (entrees).

When we were done we went out to see the street teeming with people. The market must have ended at 1pm and now the bars were filing up. Almost all the outside seating was taken which was ok because we found a place where I could charge my phone and they had Manzanilla sherry! We ordered a plate of gambas and then they came over to tell us we got two additional small tapas for ordering the drinks!! I love this town! Suzy was in the restroom so I ordered a shrimp cake and the most amazing bunuelo of morcilla, like a beignet filled with a blood sausage gravy. Sadly we could not stay forever because when we exited that bar the Saturday scene was going full throttle. Absolute hoards of people were descending upon this district known as Barrio Humedo or “wet district” meaning place to get alcohol! This was clearly the place to be and be seen. Many groups were dressed in matching outfits which we learned were bachelor and bachelorette parties. We hated to leave but headed out of town, said hello to some chickens and roosters roaming a park and saw the famed statue of a pilgrim resting his feet. We really did not get our fill of Leon.

Onward through more industrial areas, lining the highway and it was a bit warm and humid but luckily not too sunny. Boring walk honestly. My feet were griping and that last sherry was probably not in retrospect the best idea, but man were we glad we didn’t go further today. We meandered around and around some fields and eventually were in Virgen de Camino and then a long slog to Valverde where thankfully at the very entrance to the town lay our adorable Albergue Casa de Camino. The place is so adorable and we were warmly welcomed by Carolina with a fun purple bob haircut, Sandra, and Juan Carlos the owners. They take turns helping check people in and cooking dinner in the open kitchen. The place is so great and has 20 pod like beds which really makes you feel much more comfortable and offers privacy and less noise.

The showers were awesome, big and roomy with huge rain shower heads. After our showers we were able to do laundry which was 7 Euros. I am so grateful for every piece of clothing I brought because I was able to wear my swim shorts, swimsuit top and purple long sleeve and wash everything else because literally everything else was filthy.

When we were settled we hung out in the comfy living room while their team prepped the dinner and checked in more guests and we were offered an aperitif for free, I had a white wine. Carolina spent some time chatting with us, she’s originally from Venezuela and we enjoyed hearing about her son and sharing photos of our pets. We ran into some pilgrims we had met before and heard that they’d opted to taxi through the last slog of the day because they had started in Mansilla de las Mulas that day! This is always an option, but I’d prefer to go the whole way on foot.

Dinner was incredible, we were served wine and bread and a huge hit plate of spaghetti more than I’d ever eat at home. This was the first course, and amazingly I found I myself eating the whole thing. Then we were served an amazing chicken, super tender and marinated in something giving it tons of flavor. Juan Carlos then offered us a choice of Orujo (Spanish grappa) plain, herbal or cream. The alcohol helped lubricate our language. I spoke to the men at the table in a combination of French, Spanish and English and sometimes they spoke to me in Italian. It was quite a jumble of language and very fun to switch back and forth. One had done the Camino before by bike. He said he arrived in Santiago in just four days but had sped through swing only highways and asphalt. He had gazed at the wonder in the walking pilgrims eyes as they saw the cathedral and wondered what he was missing, so this time he is on foot. We did our songs for the group and I had a request for Joan Baez so I muddled through Deportee. Suzy brought out her massager and gave the hardworking team neck and back massages.

I hope to feel the wonder, I hope that I will get there in time, I hope my feet hold up, I hope I’m doing the right thing following my path.

Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-One Burgo de Ranero to Arcahueja Stamina (Three Weeks Walking)

20 04 2018

I hit the bed like a rock last night, Suzy said I was speaking a combo of German and Spanish or maybe just an alien language in my sleep, but it was comfortable. It was one of those nights I literally fell into bed, but come morning I enjoyed a hot shower and spreading my clothes all over the room and while Suzy was eating breakfast I was able to dress freely without having to shimmy into clothes in a wet shower stall. Really luxurious actually!

Suzy noticed a bunch of pilgrims getting into an air conditioned coach bus clearly to bypass this next leg, but reinvigorated by a coffee we began our journey onward. There were hardly any pilgrims along the long “senda” or pilgrim track parallel to the road but we felt a lighter energy than the day before. We saw plenty of birds in including a huge stork.

The weather was better today, less hot and with an almost constant breeze. We had a great stop at Reliegos at Bar Gil II for a beer and some churros and the owner also gave us some slices of the best “tortilla” that I’ve had so far. “Tortilla” is the frittata like egg cake most bars make with potatoes and egg. This one was lighter and had maybe some leek or onion in it.

We had another quick stop in Mansilla de las Mulas where we enjoyed some time in the gorgeous grass at a neat place called Le Jardin. With our beers we were presented two more delicious tapas, jamon, chorizo and cheese on bread. We ran into Nessie and later our Aussie vineyard owner and another guy we’d seen a lot of on the trails, a great town but we couldn’t stay as Suzy’s bag was being delivered to Arcahueja (we hoped!)

It was basically another day of “Nothing to see here” but our spirits were high, our energy strong and we kept on going. Not much to see save a very grand bridge and then a terrible stretch going through Villarente right on the road amidst gas stations, repair stations and small strip malls.

Finally we escaped the chaos of the busy road winding up through a park and into the hills to Arcahueja.

Around a bend as I was losing momentum Suzy was first to spot the herd, they were Merino sheep! She’d done some research on them. The wool they provide of course is like gold to a pilgrim. It wicks away moisture, resists water, dries quickly and amazingly doesn’t smell… and is not itchy! My favorite items are my 100% Merino wool socks and what I like to call my magic shirt, a long-sleeved Merino wool shirt, all made by Smartwool (and no they haven’t sponsored me to say that). Apparently these sheep were so prized for their special wool that they were carefully guarded. In fact in Spain before the 18th century exporting of Merino sheep was a crime punishable by death, so the Spaniards had a monopoly on the industry for many years. The shepherd confirmed for Suzy that she was right, these sheep were Merino and definitely not for consumption. They gave us the boost we needed to get up the hill to our comfortable Albergue La Torre. We took advantage of the bed plus pilgrims dinner and breakfast option for 20 Euros and had a great dinner with two female pilgrims from Holland and Germany. In fact the German lives in Umbria, Italy and runs a hotel there so plans were started for a spring 2019 visit to Italy. We played them a few songs and then off to bed where I’m now finishing my blog. Lots of snoring tonight.

Today was another big day. 18.7 miles. Yesterday was 19.1 in the heat. I’m not sure about the next walk but I think we need to keep eating these miles up to make it on time so I can fly home from Barcelona. We have come so far but there’s so much left to go!

I’m still here for 15 days and at times I’m just want to fly home. It’s hard being away from your comfort zone for so long, from your people and your life. From creature comforts like having your own bed, clean clothes and privacy. Hooks for towels, toilet paper and soap, things like this become luxury items.

One of the ladies last night was considering stopping in Leon. This is her third and final leg of the Camino completing the whole trip but pshe was going to go to Santiago a second time. She too is homesick. After we wrapped up our songs, finished the wine she said, “I’ve just decided to keep going.”

This is a long haul. I will keep on and we will make it to Santiago de Compostela.

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