Camino de Santiago:

12 05 2018

Today I finally had a full day to dedicate to my other jobs… oh did I fail to mention that I not only work at the Nantucket Whaling Museum (part time), but I also sell wine, beer and spirits to restaurants and retail stores for a distributor (part time) and my main gig (seasonally) since last year is operating a snack bar here in Nantucket called The Hungry Minnow.

And I have a few other things I do as well, Tannin Management which is my wine consulting company, for example I took on a project to help a trade group improve their mailing list this week, I teach wine classes at the San Francisco Wine School, and I have Ambergris which is my art and crafts company (I make notebooks out of VHS tape covers and Monopoly game pieces and sell them on Amazon) and I’m a singer songwriter. I paint sand dollars I harvest from the SF Bay, I paint watercolors… So yes I keep myself busy.

I’m pretty good st juggling these jobs but I’m also really good at procrastination. I’m not sure if the change I felt today was from the walk ir just out of sheer necessity (I have a ton to do!) but I felt like I attacked every task today with greater purpose. I used to like to overplan and outline the tasks in writing but today I just got things done.

I had to go get my car registration and out here on the island there’s only one service center. People know there’s a grouchy guy that works there and a nicer guy. Grouchy guy has always been nice to me, but I was nervous… what if he was in a bad mood? I dreaded it but could not put it off and I got less grouchy kinda nice guy! What luck!!

Rather than writing down who I needed to call (I hate talking on the phone, including even ordering takeout for some reason) I just called them. I ordered the dumpsters for the restaurant, scheduled the fire safety, confirmed the hood cleaning. I went and paid for and scheduled the health inspection. I ran errands and picked up my timecard for the museum.

For my sales job I had a rep from a wine brand coming in Thursday so I had to call, text and email every buyer I knew asking for appointments. I kept on it and tried to get more firm appointments and so many people were off island or busy! I even had to go and stage oyster shells on the wine bottles at the liquor store that sold their wines!

I started cleaning the house as much as possible because Friday we have our very first group of Airbnb guests arriving to stay in our home while we move to a downstairs apartment! I worked for a few hours on a mailing list project… and then I went to a community gathering at a private club, The Westmoor, which was finally a lively breath of fresh air after a non-stop day! It was so nice to gather with some like minded busy community members and drink a little rose. One of a friends from a writing workshop last year was hosting and after most of the people had left we really enjoyed talking about my trip and about focusing on writing more this summer. And I could really tell she understood my journey and my need to take it. We had a lot of parallel experiences to chat about and incredibly we really haven’t hung out since the first time we met. It’s interesting though, just like some friends met on the Camino, how you quickly can sense that there are certain souls with whom you have an innate understanding that has nothing to do with proximity or time spent together.

I returned home to get some more paperwork done feeling relieved to be back in charge of so many things that I’d felt were out of my control for so long and to have clear progress to show for my effort. And a little spiritual connection to boot.

I am a little sad to be behind on my daily musings but… I still want to try to capture some daily thoughts so I hope to catch up soon. I’m scared that soon the title may not be Camino de Santiago… and maybe it won’t continue to be appropriate or pertinent to the Camino groups I used to post on… but then there’s the weird thought that forever I’m now on this journey.

Forever I am now a part of a Brotherhood that DOES understand the Camino whether or not they are walking at that moment. If they are veterans or prospective walkers they may appreciate my emotions. How is my life journey tied the Camino? And how will it be tied to it in the future.. But, in some ways I’m wondering “Am I still a member of the club even though I am done with my journey?”

This is another weird emotion. In some ways I feel abandoned yet it’s only self abandonment…. that said no one out here “gets it”! And now I’m not “in it” so how can or should I still be a part of the group!?

I’ve felt this belonging for so many months but now I’m struck with the thought that perhaps it’s my time to go?! If my walk is over do I leave the group other than providing pertinent info on footwear and such?

I find it a strange and vulnerable spot to be with all the rest of the culture shock I’m experiencing upon return to the U.S.

So there ya go.

Camino de Santiago: The Grind

11 05 2018

So now I’m a few days back and I’m encountering a lot of emotions.

I enjoy talking to people about what I’ve done but I’m finding that I have to tailor the discussion depending upon who I’m talking to. Being a public speaker for so many years I totally sense it when I lose someone. At times someone will say, “What was the best part of the trip!?” And I tell them about Tomas, perhaps the last Knight Templar and their eyes glaze over and they look away.

Sometimes they like to talk numbers. How far, how long, how steep?

Sometimes it’s about people, who did you go with, who was there, what were they like?

It’s so interesting to find that each person I encounter had a different level of appreciation for what I have done. They’re each looking at my experience through their own unique filter. Some people meaning well ask how it was but I sense this is just polite and that they don’t really care, so I downplay it. I say “Oh it was super cool, I lost some weight.” Because I know they’d never really Get It.

I had to work another Whaling Museum shift today and give the story of the ill-fated whaleship Essex which I love doing, so that was fun. I also set the wheels in motion for opening my snack bar, The Hungry Minnow with some meetings both before and after work. There’s a lot to do to prep for the season. I don’t regret leaving for a span, a lot couldn’t have been done before I went yet now I need to really focus.

Luckily I had a great meeting with a new employee and also ran into a former employee who is returning this year. I was excited to find out that he is excited to come back and work again. He’d a lot taller than he was in September. So amazing to see my staff growing up before my eyes, he’s about 15.

Thankfully after many meetings and stuff to do I finally made it home where my husband and dog were finally waiting for me! I got a warm reception from my human but my dog was not as kind. I totally got the cold nose treatment. He truly snubbed me and would not snuggle or react to me at all. It made me sad. I thought dogs weren’t supposed to understand the difference between an hour and a day… but I guess forty days had him miffed.

Sigh. I love that little kid and now I feel really guilty for leaving them both. My husband did so much around the house while I was gone but I’ve got so much more to do, it’s daunting. But I’m taking it day by day.

Camino de Santiago: Reality Bites

10 05 2018

Morning comes way soon out here in the real world. Instead of night vision goggle people getting up at 4 am to rustle their plastic bags you’ve got real world responsibilities knocking st your brain while you’re trying to sleep. Especially if you have about ten days to open a restaurant for the season and you happen to have been scheduled to work at the Nantucket Whaling Museum your first real day back in civilization. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of it, but there was no chance to rest from what many believe was a “vacation”!

Luckily my sleep patterns or lack thereof allowed me to wake early so I could gather my uniform, my lunch and my notes for the shift at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. For those of you who may have watched the newest four episodes of the Gilmore Girls you may have gotten an inkling of what I do at the museum. I basically give a talk about the process of whale hunting as it evolved from the time that the early settlers arrived to the height of Nantucket’s lucrative lead as the whaling capital of the world. It had slides and video and its super fun, but this was my first two presentations of this particular program so I had a little of the nerves, just enough to keep me on point and allow me to deliver what I thought were two really good presentations. It was fun to see the whole team of co-workers who were of course curious about what I’d been up to. The rest of the day was spent roaming the incredible galleries at the museum. I was in awe at how much had changed since I’d been gone and I didn’t reply scratch the surface of what these exhibits hold. I’m excited for many more shifts this May to really delve into the new installations. I’m so lucky to have such an enriching job!

I also got the good news that my friend from the German crew, Patrick was able to make it home, His wallet and EU ID were stolen IN the cathedral in Santiago but luckily the police found it for him so he could return home. I’m also hearing about other friends making it into Santiago. It’s so bittersweet knowing I missed them by just days, but I’m so happy for them. Each or our experiences is so distinct and ongoing, you cannot compare so it’s so interesting to see the varied reactions upon “arriving”. Nantucket and as peaceful today, the calm before the big storm which will be wine festival, then Memorial Day and Figawi and then the whole summer. I’m thankful to be able to enjoy a few quiet moments before it gets crazy.

Camino de Santiago: Nantucket Bound

9 05 2018

So I’m not so sure how many of you understand my unique living situation. I was living in San Francisco as a wine professional for many many years, since 1996. My husband and I got a unique opportunity to buy a house in Nantucket years ago, my lifelong dream. The thing happened in a heartbeat. I saw the photo of the home with its blue facade hiding a much bigger house behind it in a photo in a realtor magazine one night while “dreaming” that one day we could own a home. Up until then that was literally impossible due to Bay Area home prices. Long story short after contacting a realtor who then proceeded to show us the very first house where I’d spent the summer of 1992, my first Nantucket summer… somehow this short sale home became ours and the course of our lives was forever changed. Today’s not the day to dive into the why and how we have dealt both successfully and unsuccessfully with what was initially a bi-coastal life. Let’s just say for now we are committed to Nantucket, but we still have tendrils out there in the SF food, wine and spirits scene.

Anyway, living in Nantucket seems idyllic until you consider the cost, and the difficulty every single time, of getting home. Even if there’s no weather…

I woke up slowly since I was up until about 5am blogging, no idea what time zone I’m on… I usually don’t get jet lag and frankly don’t care about it. If I wake up at night I get things done and sleep when I can. For now I was not working so I have that luxury.

I got my things sorted and in my mind and on paper took an inventory. My plan was to out most of my clothes and pack into the freezer to make sure I don’t transport any unsavory critters home. Although I don’t believe I was ever bit by bed bugs I’m taking NO chances. And I was bit by something two times…better to be safe. Luckily I happen to have access to a large freezer that is empty for the season and will allow me a deep freeze for a few days… I think I’ll wait 6.

I decided to walk the 45 minutes to South Station to pick up a Plymouth & Brockton bus to the Cape. On the way I passed Chinatown and had enough time to pick up some snacks at a Chinese bakery! Fried dough, a lemon egg custard tart and sesame bun.

After the bus it was a short walk to the ferry from there. I was very entertained on the ride by a woman talking at full volume on the phone (you are NOT supposed to talk on the phone on this bus) about her escapades with and ex lover who turned out to be bisexual. It was a fascinating tale and kept me riveted until we had to depart.

We got in early which was a godsend because o was able to buy my ticket and zip over to Spanky’s Clam Shack and get my fix of steamers (clams) for the year. You see in Nantucket the season is effectively Memorial Day through Labor Day, or even perhaps Columbus Day. I expect to be here until gen at least. Likely no real days off, no respite from the grind for the whole season… so basically saying goodbye to ‘Merica and the mainland for many months.

The ferry was quiet and we had a peaceful easy entry across the sound to Nantucket almost 30 miles out at sea. Rounding Brant Point in Nantucket is always special and I was so glad I got to see the Daffodil celebration decorations were still up.

I arrived at my restaurant where I’d staged some clothing and my husband had staged my car and my mass of keys and stripped down and into new clothes and out my pack and all my items except my Compostela and electronics in the deep freeze. Amazing to think that after 40 days and nights that you could just let go of all those items. But I have so many THINGS here it’s amazing… a lesson right there and not quite sure how to embrace it yet, but I have plenty.

My husband and dog are off in California at a disc golf tournament so the welcome was lackluster. I showered and put the temporary clothes in a bag to freeze later. It felt so so good to have my regular shampoo and conditioner and body wash and to take a long hot shower and to have a huge towel and not have to worry about dressing right away!

I curled up on the couch at about 4pm, finally home.

I woke a few hours later totally disoriented and opened my eyes to see some pretty wooden floors, cute accoutrements and nice furnishings. I thought to myself at first, “Wow, this place is totally cute, so honey and comfortable. What a nice Albergue.” And suddenly realized I was in my living room.

I headed to Stop n Shop knowing duck leg and veggies was on my mission and ran into some friends who weirdly didn’t immediately recognize me. They said they saw me and were confused because I looked just like “Chapa”, lol but of course I am, Chapa. We chatted a bit. Ran into another friend who had just been delivered a miracle. He thanked me for praying for him, I know it wasn’t me, I just maybe helped get a message sent for him, it really is his own faith that is the important thing. After he got some positive news and sent gratitude up to whomever he felt inclined to send it a turtle literally walked in front of his car. He stopped on a dime and helped the creature off the road and in its intended direction. We can create miracles if we believe.

My meal was great and I set my sights on some mail piles and bills needing to be paid, and incredibly work is at 9:30am tomorrow at The Nantucket Whaling Museum. I’m giving a new program (new to me) called the Whale Hunt. No rest for the weary but I’m so happy for the work. I’m really happy to be home!

Camino de Santiago: The Extraction

8 05 2018

What’s there to say about the arduous journey home? The cab from Suzy’s flat was waiting as promised at 7am and the driver was super nice, he said “Your Camino is now over!”, in Spanish of course, made me choke up a bit but I held it together.

The Santiago airport was lovely, super new and clean and I enjoyed a last breakfast, jamon Iberico mini bocadillo, coffee and a fresh orange juice for the airport price of 7,50 Euros. Ryan air allows small bags, but mine was way too big it they gate checked it to Barcelona for free so that was fine.

In Barcelona it took a long time to get out bags sadly, and then a LONG bus transfer to terminal 1, be sure to leave enough time for all that. Then ironically once I was there Level by Iberia wasn’t even open yet, and I could not check in online or on their computers. Iberia customer service was no help either. And so much for my little thought about zipping into Barcelona for lunch, not a possibility.

Once officially checked in I opted to go straight through security, and then passport control despite seeing a confusing sign that said the shopping was on the lower level before passport control. I figured I didn’t need a lot of shopping… but sadly once through security found the options to be VERY limited. As in only a cafeteria that had a bar that they weren’t serving from and McDonald’s. my ride re-entry to civilization magnified! Not only that but the line was crazy they didn’t have the food advertised and they also ran out of tap beer. I repeat RAN OUT OF BEER.

I had one beer and munched on the remaining snacks in my pack knowing that I could not bring them back into the United States. I bid adieu to my favorite cocktail mix and the truffle and mushroom rice cakes I’d been schlepping for a few weeks (thanks to Rice Kake Mary, who we really miss). I ate some meat sticks and this was my lunch for the long wait for the plane. Very anti-climactic.

The fight was tedious as were the movies… I started with I Tonya, a painful movie to watch I thought, continued on with Book of Life that I was sorry to see Coco had so many similarities to, but Coco just has my heart, sorry Guillermo Del Toro. And I dozed a bit during that one, and finally I had time for Three Billboatds, which I’ve wanted to see but isn’t exactly a fun and uplifting movie.

I knew I would not be able to catch a two hour bus to an hour long ferry and make it home so I opted to stay at the Midtown Hotel suggested by Hotels Tonite app which was fine. After so many days in hostels it was despite its “basic” rating luxurious to me.

The room was about the size of a sixteen person hostel room, and I had the luxury items that every pilgrim covets. Mind you you’d be surprised as to how much you value the following:

Unlimited towels!!!!

A bath mat!!!

A private bathroom with a tub!


Pillows with pillowcases!

Temperature control!

TV (which I didn’t turn on)

These simple comforts on the road really get you, I mean after weeks away from life they’re amazing, yet the sticker shock was also rough! $126 on Hotels Tonight.

I didn’t even bother to shower when I first got to the room as I figured I’d just fall asleep without dinner, but it was so close to the Prudential center I had a chance to get some snacks and wine from the star gourmet retail store and also hit the Eataly franchise. Eataly is a multi use venue with retail and a fish bar, a salumeria, and other concepts inside. If you like you can walk around with wine in a glass and browse. It’s pretty awesome. I wanted to get one of the market fish, they offer four or five fish in whatever preparation you like from what is fresh that day, but I felt a little sticker shock, remember I haven’t had to pay tax or TiP for five weeks!! This was crazy for me to adopt and similarly difficult for me to leave behind!

So I opted for a simple glass (actually two) of Frapatto and a pasta with Bottarga, shaved fish roe. Don’t get me wrong, I think their prices are in sync with the rest of Boston and NY and SF for sure. But the bill was a LOT. When you are used to paying 1 euro or less sometimes for wine $12 a glass seems excessive. And suddenly I also need to tip and pay tax on that as well. But it was so so satisfying and tasty. And the service impeccable.

Off to the comfy and spacious room that I wished I’d shared and to await the rest of my re-entry.

Camino de Santiago: A Day Later Santiago to Finisterre-Adrift

6 05 2018

So although Suzy and I made it across Spain I must say I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have time to walk to Finisterre, aka Finis Terra the “end of the world” as it was thought to be back in the day. It’s another 100km to the city so I figured I’d just take a bus and check it out.

I had to check out of my lovely little monastery room and it was weird how one day of not packing the pack really had me off kilter and confused. It took longer than normal. I headed down to breakfast later than I was supposed to and was also supposed to meet a woman from the Camigas group for a quick breakfast. She noticed me when I came in and we enjoyed a quick chat. The hotel had told me that it was only a 15-20 minute walk to the bus station so poles in hand I headed out, and up (it was of course uphill!) I got there just a little too late to get the 9am bus but there was a 10 so I got a ticket for that bus. It was less than 10 Euros which I thought was better than some of the tours I’d seen ranging from 35-50 Euros. I also wasn’t so keen on becoming a tourigram. I didn’t want to be trapped on a bus with people I didn’t know, sorry… I just needed to peel away and not meet anyone else especially not captive on a tour bus for an entire day.

We all piled on and it was almost full and headed out of Santiago down a very windy road. Every now and then the bus would stop in a town and then it would stop on the side of the road to pick up random people or then drop them off. I slept a lot of the way. Soon the view changed from hills to gorgeous real and aquamarine colored water with pale golden sandy beaches and lots of coves and inlets. Some were chock full of fishing boats no doubt providing Santiago and Galicia with all its amazing fresh seafood.

The wifi on the bus didn’t really work so I kept trying to access a map to figure out where we were and finally got one to open to discover we were winding around and around tiny fingers and inlets of land. Despite this being the Atlantic it looked much more tropical to me…there were palms and bright sun glistening off the water. And luckily I don’t have motion sickness because it was a winding road.

Finally when we were nearing Finisterre I was able to pull up a site that informed me that the actual end of the earth, the faro or lighthouse is an additional 3km away from the town! I should have done more research because at the end of the ride it was three full hours til we got to the town. I decided I needed to eat, despite not walking my body is still super hungry so I went to an area of restaurants near the wharves of the town. It was very sunny but very breezy so I ate in a little covered outdoor patio looking out. It seemed a bit touristy but also very pleasant and I ran into Paul from our room in… insert town name here lol, I literally cannot remember and I’m just oh so tired!

So Paul was on a tour that took you to all the places, bussed you to the lighthouse etc. he invited me to join their group for lunch but I was honestly happy on my own, and still happy to not have to engage. It was “me” time. I got some cigalas which are baby lobsters and dove into them, they were amazing. The folks next to me were visiting from Russia. They asked where I was from and when I said United States they said, “Ah! We are best friends!”

As I sat there I pondered my next move. I really was tired of walking. I mean so so tired. And did I really want to roll up to the end of the world in a bus or a taxi? And would I have time to get back to Santiago? I had to be back tonight to get my flight home in the morning. There were only three return busses, 3pm, 4:45pm and 7… and they don’t allow reservations so if the bus is full who knows what happens. After so many weeks of pushing to get to the next place, of all the planning and pushing ourselves I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go down. I wanted to save that moment for a time when I had time to relish it rather than stress about returning to Santiago.

So I got on the next bus home, and luckily just in time because every seat was full. The bus was also 800 degrees no air conditioning. No wifi, but it was an “express” I guess as the driver didn’t pick up any random folks on the road and we were able to get back in only 2 hours, I was just in time to join Suzy for gin tonic hour behind the cathedral (I had wine).

So much for my branching out and being alone. It just wasn’t in the cards I guess. Suzy had enjoyed the day at the museum in the cathedral learning about the construction and repairs to it.

As the breeze was picking up we finished and we dropped my bag and poles at her room. We retired Hans and Franz for now finally folding them up and stashing them in her huge bag since she’s checking it and we were told poles get confiscated at security, no matter how they fold up.

We went back out to enjoy the incredible sunshine and explore some of the shops Suzy had discovered her first day in town. I forgot to update you on her latest crazy money saga… she had her daughter send one last bit of money to get her through the next few days since she was low and so went out to the Santiago moneygram only to find it completely abandoned, as in doesn’t exist anymore. Kind of hilarious at this point. A guy near the location just said “cerrado”. I’m convinced it’s a scam. At any rate she went to a bank and they told her Santiago does have somewhere to exchange cash, it’s a store that sells pottery and tapas dishes and changes US dollars to Euros. The exchange rate was horrible but at least she got some money. She was also able to run into the very fancy shopping district so she took me there. Just steps from the old town tons of locals milled about, it was Friday after all so they were all shopping and drinking at cafes. We found a gorgeous and well stocked wine and spirit shop where you can buy local spirits and gorgeous tinned seafood to bring home. Be careful though as the US has lots of restrictions on what food is allowed to come in.

For my last night we wanted to sample the great cuisine of Santiago so we started with a snack of the two local cheeses, the soft and springy mild tetilla and the more firm smoked St. Simon. They were great with the 1906 beer, a more nutty option with more weight. Although we’d walked past this strip of restaurants so many times, tonight we noticed a shop that stood out, a boutique beer store! While I love the fresh light and clean Estrella Galicia (so much better than most light US lagers), I really like strong hoppy beers like I.P.A. and haven’t had any for a long time! Not only did this store have an excellent selection of cans and bottles but also some kegs. We tried the Beavertown from London, a session I.P.A. and Caleya Goma2 from Spain. Both were delicious and of course we got a nice tapa along with the beer, another reminder that beer, bread and cheese is such a perfect combination.

We continued down the street thinking we could go back to visit Manuel and Manuela for some seafood but stumbled upon Las Caracoles again. I usually don’t want to go to the same place twice when there are so many to try but our meal had been so good so we went in and found Julia, my “Camiga” from breakfast sitting at our table from the night before! We slid in next to her and it was great to have more time to connect, plus I’d been sad we didn’t take a photo earlier in the day.

Suzy and I opted for the gambas with shiitakes and the Viera… one large scallop in a sauce of tomato and melted onions. Both were amazing. The large scallop even came with the roe sack attached, a delicious part of the animal. In Nantucket we don’t serve that because it’s “spent” due to the fact that we allow the scallops to spawn in advance of the season to keep the fishery healthy… so by October all those roe sacks are black and not tasty so discarded. We even got gummi snails for dessert.

Finally it was on to the little bar to see Manuel y Manuela, Suzy got the almond cake which Manuel promptly doused with coffee liqueur… I got some fat and juicy boquerones (Spanish anchovies)… I much prefer savory to sweet. It was sad to think that these were by last bites/sips in Spain after so many weeks.

We headed back to Suzy’s room where she let me crash for the night, it’s a really ideal location close to everything on Rua Vilar. We had a bottle of white to sip on with new Santiago souvenir shot glasses and Suzy read my tarot for me. It seemed to fit and included some witchy prospects for the future. A cab would pick me up at seven in the morning for my departure and our trip together would be done.

After so many days being absolutely driven, a goal set each night for the next big push today was very hard. What should have been relaxing was not… instead I bobbed around the harbor like a boat untethered. I’m in between ports at the moment. I’m not sure how to really alleviate the feelings of the last few days because you really should leave a few days open at the end of the trip yet it can result in this type of day. Not that I regret anything except perhaps the five hours on the bus. Tomorrow another very long travel day, but ever closer to home and to attacking my life with new vim and vigor. I’m excited to see if I find the Camino will make a difference in how I approach my daily life, on Monday I’ve got to hit the ground RUNNING! So no more drifting… tomorrow I set sail to return to my anchor for at least the summer!

Camino de Santiago: Santiago de Compostela No Walking-Camino Hangover

4 05 2018

Once my husband gave a speech as a groomsman in his friend Rob’s wedding. He started out by saying that the day after he got married was the worst day of his life. After some uncomfortable chuckles and twitters and a scathing look from my direction, he explained. The day after our wedding all his favorite people in the world who’d been together with us for three days departed one by one. The goodbyes each of then painful. Until at some point it was just us. Officially married and alone.

It feels very much like that today. I’ve had a great day, I slept as late as I could and then enjoyed the breakfast buffet then took a little walk and ran into some pilgrims from days past, Andi and Simon. I slept more after trying to write my blog post. I was irritated to find most of my clothes totally gross so I found a laundromat and washed clothes and grabbed a beer down the street. It was a super swanky laundromat! Very clean and enjoyable to use but I was hungry so I headed out to find a bar. Found a cute place but at 12:15 they said they weren’t serving yet so I got a beer and they brought me nuts and olives and then suddenly a great piece of warm bread with melted cheese and ham on it. It was all I’d really wanted!

After a return back to the room to put the clothes away it was off again in search of another nibble. I found a self serve tapas place where you pull the tapas from the case yourself and they count your used toothpicks later (three different toothpick sizes distinguish which items you ate and the price.) it was fine but the bread was a bit cold…

It felt so weird to really have no where I needed to go or get to. And weird to be alone. I roamed around and found the market which was sadly already closed for the day… then I stumbled upon a market hall filled with fancy restaurants, an oyster place, a Japanese tapas spot and then a place that was mobbed with people! They were digging into crab, scallops, clams, mussels, all sorts of items from the sea. It was incredible. I asked the guy at the counter what they had and he said, “Nothing!”

He explained that all the food was purchased by the customers fresh during market hours, 9-2pm and then they cook it for them! Pretty amazing. Totally my kind of place so I was sorry I hadn’t found it sooner.

I continued to roam the streets and found a place selling churros and chocolate so naturally for research purposes I had to try that. The chocolate was so thick it stuck to the spoon and was almost the consistency of pudding before it sets. It was so so good. The churros were good but not freshly dried but how can fried dough ever be bad. I had some time to write some thank you’s and compile my official list for the cathedral to ask for a blessing. After consuming the whole cup of chocolate I felt a little sugar drunk and headed out into the bright sunshine to go back to the hotel. Just a few seconds after leaving the shop I merged back into the stream of pilgrims walking in and saw our friends! The German “team” was arriving! They almost didn’t recognize me without the John Deere hat. It was great to see them and we exchanged info quickly so we could grab a beer later but I didn’t want to distract them on their entry so I peeled away to let them walk in. Soon upon entering my warm sunny room I was dozing, finally enjoying my very first real Spanish siesta.

At about 7 I zipped over to the cathedral. It looks so much happier today in the sunshine.It was so nice to be so close to it staying at the hotel right beside it. I lit a candle for Daniel and a few more for others and hugged the statue you’re supposed to hug behind the altar. Mass was starting at 7:30 so they tell everyone who isn’t staying for mass they have to leave before it begins. I went back down to the crypt and read my list to St. James asking him to honor my friends and family who are no longer here with us, to thank all those that supported my journey in so many ways and to plead for help for a few who need soothing and assistance. I got out just before the mass began.

Around the corner from the cathedral I bought my one souvenir, a ring that says “ultreia” and has the symbols of the Camino on it and I reunited with Suzy to have a wine behind the cathedral. She had run into the family we met a few days ago who were now hanging out in Santiago. the sun was leaving this nice patio so we gathered up and went to find some food. We went towards the area where there seemed to be a lot of restaurants and gawked at the window displays of seafood, scallops and big bunks of meat. Each of them looked nice, we reviewed the menus and although they all were for the most part empty (it was only 8:00 or so) we went for one called Las Caracoles (snails) partly for the name but also it just looked cute.

We found a two top and ordered up a bottle of Ribeira Sacra (Mencia), the snails (the same recipe since they opened in 1986 they told us) and I ordered the ribeye and Suzy got the Pork loin, fed on chestnuts and topped with tetilla cheese (you’ll see this semi-soft mild but delicious cheese all over the region… named tetilla for its distinctive teat-like shape, no joke).

We were presented with an amuse bouche, a bite of crisp Romaine with a mussel marinated in peppers and oil on it, super fresh and deliciously briny. Next came the snails, medium in size in a slightly picant red sauce with some sweet onion, green onion, probably pimenton and the thing that must really make it, little white chunks of pork fat. So decadent.

Finally the entrees came and once again we were in heaven. The meats were both perfectly tender and cooked so they were juicy and not tough. Mine came with a vibrantly green plate of arugula dressed in high quality olive oil and salted just enough, and of course the requisite potatoes were part of the meal, cooked just this side of golden.

As we enjoyed all the flavors we noticed that the restaurant was filling up. A huge group came to dominate the back room singing and chanting and soon every other table was full. It was crazy. Two people came in and tried to usurp a vacated table that was still dirty and were sent away. The staff was slammed, we were thrilled. When we left we checked in on the other restaurants on the row. Most were completely empty, just the owner sitting in the back reading. None was even close to as busy, but as we peered in we noticed two pilgrims from a long time ago! One remarked that he remembered Suzy building her little fort with a blanket back at the Albergue in Villamayor de Monjardin I think, and our dear Claudia!

We went to the cathedral to meet up with the German crew and ran into Richard. There was a band of singers in cloaks playing Guadalajara and Guantanamera, Mexican songs, so funny. We finally found our crew and had some beers together sharing stories of how our paths had split and what had happened along the way. We were all very tired though and retired early. It was great to finally reconvene though even if only to say goodbye officially.

These friends will always be so special and so unique. A family that sometimes speaks in English and sometimes really needs no words to communicate. Our special Camino family.

Camino de Santiago Day Thirty-Three: Santa Irene to Santiago de Compostela-Humility

3 05 2018

The group at Santa Irene was so small that we made a pact regarding what time we’d turn on the lights. It made it much easier to gather our things and pack knowing we could be loud and we’d all be ok with that. We had a great breakfast, very good toast and butter, local cheese and membrillo (quince paste), coffee and juice so we felt fueled up for the last day. We would have liked to curl up on the couch next to the wood stove all day but we were really excited to get to Santiago. Only about 21 km away.

It looked like rain so we geared up and started walking. Quickly the light drizzle went away and we shed layers once again so as not to get too hot. We were in good spirits, amazed that today was the day we were going to make it. Incredible really how sting our bodies have become and how my feet have healed themselves and we have learned how to hike.

The trails were easy, a good deal of eucalyptus again which was very soothing in the wet damp air, it seemed to magnify the aroma. Our footsteps fell softly on the packed dirt path and we breathed in and out that magical air. And then it started like a low rumble. We thought it must have been a large group of pilgrims (new ones) walking together their voices a little too loud because no doubt they were excited to be approaching Santiago. As it grew we saw the first group easily overtake our steady and brisk pace. It was about 10 fifteen year old kids.

As they passed I was struck by their clean flowing hair, the bright pink or white sneakers and some without even socks! The smell of Woolite from their clean clean clothes drowned out the peaceful eucalyptus notes and their loud clamor further disrupted our zen moment.

We shrugged, a school trip no doubt. It was ok to let them pass, we had all day to get to Santiago. Then another pod of teens came along, and more and more and more. Must have been at least one hundred kids! We finally had to step to the side of the road to let them pass. We wondered if their teachers had told them to take note of the pilgrims they encountered. Suzy’s eye was tired so she had a leather patch over it to rest it, and looked like a pirate but in a flowing white poncho. I am not sure what I looked like to them. A girl in a John Deere hat weathered by sun and wind in clothes and boots that were filthy, skin tanned but only on one side. My hair is scraggly, I haven’t used my real hair products for a month and it shows (I left them accidentally the third or fourth day in). No matter how much or little I shower I don’t smell very good for long. Triage for the cleaner puffy jacket for the special occasion this morning may have helped, but this is a pilgrim’s life. And I’ve basically become united with these two poles on my arm, my best friends they guide my every step.

We got really excited when we saw the kids stopping for a bathroom break and then came across this sign saying we were in he vicinity of Santiago. We smoked the kids and walked on towards the Santiago airport. We had to make a pit stop for the restroom and grabbed a juice. I was itching to go faster but we did need a rest. While we regrouped it started to drizzle and the kids lapped us again. We set out behind them. We thought of Heino today back in Germany, it’s his birthday. What a celebration it would have been if we could have walked in together.

The walk, this walk that I had been on for thirty three days soon ceased to be interesting. We walked through towns and suburbs but no more forest. We saw a few last cows but then nothing. There were hills that were challenging but on asphalt. There were a lot of pilgrims even without the group. Then we walked alongside and industrial park. I was annoyed frankly, my energy was drained and this scenery wasn’t helping. I periodically checked our progress and was stunned to see we still had two hours to go.

I started to get sad. This walk was going to be over soon, but I could not move past this scenery quickly enough. It was super foggy but not raining. It reminded me of San Francisco and when I opened up Facebook to pass the time, a cryptic post from my friend in the SF cocktail scene was the first thing I saw and my heart sank. I knew right away that San Francisco and we had lost one of our treasured friends. I didn’t know Daniel that well, but he was always so so gracious to me and was always a friend to everyone he met. I remember always being so happy to be around him and honored that he was always so present. He was very very young. Although I knew in my heart he was gone it had yet to be officially confirmed so I sent my friend a note to ask if my suspicion was accurate but then turned to airplane mode.

We plodded on, my mood not much improved. We crossed the huge highway and the train tracks and went on through the outskirts of the town and on and on. There were many pilgrims around but the kids were off at a museum.

We got caught behind some smokers and so we sped up past them. It was raining a bit and the streets were slick. We wove up and around cafes and souvenir shops and on into the town. The shell markers were surprisingly hard to keep track of. Some were missing. A woman had to point us in the right direction. A restaurant owner yelled at us for walking in the street when we were trying to pass a woman chatting on her phone and hogging the sidewalk. It was gray and drizzly.

Suzy noticed the cathedral spires first, a lump grew in my throat.

We eventually entered the old town but it was still hard to find our way. Crazy that we might almost lose our way after so many days following arrows. Occasionally pilgrims would veer off and it was hard to tell if they were on the way to finish their Camino or just heading to an Albergue.

We came in along the side of the church and entered a tunnel where a man was playing bagpipes, then a left and we had arrived. The square was huge and filled with people many taking photos and hugging, others just milling about. It was exactly 2pm. The bells rang.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. We took a few selfies and I said, “We made it.”

We knew next we should get our Compostela, the stamp and document that says you did it. We saw signs for the tourist office and went there. We got a map but kept getting lost. Pilgrims we asked didn’t seem to speak English. We were cold, tired and starving and luckily out of nowhere appeared our Italian friends from the last few nights! They’d ditched their bags already and knew where to go so we headed to the office. The line went around the courtyard and wove through the building. They told us the usual wait is 1 hour. We waited over 2 hours. I was too tired to talk, I didn’t even know what emotion I was feeling. Suzy kept up a conversation with the Italians, in French. Our feet were sore, I still had my pack on as it was easier than removing it. As we got closer to the front the group became friendlier. The group in front of us was from many different states in Mexico. Some people asked us how far we’d walked and were astonished to hear our grand total (according to my iPhone) 829.12 km or 518.2 miles.

We reached the desk where they asked for our information and took our booklets. We got a final stamp and the official Compostela (free) and we each bought the document saying how far we’d walked… their official number is 799. Just like our daily struggle with the guidebooks and maps none of the distances really add up at the end of the day. Later we found that it was a holiday in Spain so the wait was longer than normal, 1304 pilgrims entered Santiago yesterday.

We took another photo with the Italians and set out to get “lunch” we hadn’t eaten since 7:30am. It was almost 5.

We’d seen a cute yet nondescript lunch counter type of place and we located it again. The wife owner was eating her lunch at a table and watching old Westerns dubbed in Spanish. The lights were out. We walked in and asked if they were open, she asked what we wanted and we said everything! Her husband had been in the bathroom but came out and suggested padron peppers, navajas (razor clams) and berberechos (cockles). We said sure. He offered us some mussels in a red sauce and we got a bottle of white Ribeiro wine outed into small soup cups. We began to become human again. We devoured the food and then ordered empanadas is bacalao and langostinas. Manuel the chef and his wife Manuela have owned the place for 27 years.

We spoke a bit about the Camino and we spoke about our evening accommodations. I opted for a little time alone, I just needed to peel away, so I booked two nights at a hotel San Martin Pinario. They have a limited number pilgrim rooms on one floor of what is otherwise a swank hotel in a great location next to the cathedral for 25 Euros including a buffet breakfast. Suzy had booked a room at an Airbnb. Manuela commented that she knew Suzy’s place and the woman who ran it and literally three minutes later the woman was walking past the restaurant, saw Suzy and came in to say hi. “You’re my guest Suzy! Your bag is in your room.” She had recognized Suzy from her profile photo. She told her to hang out a little more as she had to grab her daughter from around the block. Incredible coincidences still continue. As we finished up they gave us a complimentary glass of the herbal Orujo. Suzy headed out and I finished up talking to the couple and headed out.

Pack on and poles under my arm I was done, so tired so ready to rest. I found the square where my hotel was located. I wasn’t quite clear as the name on the banner didn’t exactly match so I asked at the Monastery museum and thy confirmed that my hotel was in the same building, just the opposite door. I couldn’t wait to finally be able to set down the pack and the poles, my burden to carry the entire way. As I rounded the corner to the entry my foot hit a metal sewer cover wet with rain and my poles under my left arm were not engaged as I slammed down into the hard stone on my right knee and hand. I totally bit the dust, so badly that a bystander horrified asked if I was ok. I checked my phone and it wasn’t cracked miraculously and I said yes as i gingerly got up.

More than 500 miles. Up and down treacherous slopes of cobbles, rock and slate. And I get tripped up literally steps from my hotel. It was the message I’d been sent from the universe or God. Each moment of life is your Camino. It hasn’t ended, you’ll always be walking it. You walked it before and you’ll walk it until you kneel before your maker at your death. I was literally on my hands and knees at my destination and served this message.

The Camino, for me, was a way of reminding myself that I have a greater purpose. I must be vigilant with every step, my Camino will never be “over”. I must use the last 33 days as my reminder and inspiration for the rest of my life, to conquer my fear, be open and when you fall get back up and keep walking.

After I stood up and checked my hands for cuts and burst into tears, all the emotion of the last five weeks releasing. I hobbled into the hotel which thankfully is and old monastery so it has a middle courtyard surrounded by a stone cloister so I was able to enter the courtyard for a minute to regain my composure. I was given room 423, 23 of course is my number.

I went to my room sobbing hysterically and saw a big bruise and scrape on my knee. I wasn’t crying for the pain of the fall but rather for the message I was given. Just a very emotion filled journey all culminating at once, and once more where I least expected it, not there in front of the iconic church. I couldn’t really stop crying.

Soon it was almost 7:30, time for the pilgrim mass. I got a text from my friend confirming that Daniel had passed away. I headed into the cathedral and stumbled upon the crypt where St. James is buried. I left two of the things I’d carried the whole way, a prayer card from our beloved and missed Tomas Bermejo and the photo of Laura Super. I cried as I placed them inside the bars of the crypt and knelt, on the good knee to say a prayer. Mass was nice and I received communion, there were lots of people there. Again I was all emotion tears falling onto my pants and the floor, unable to control it.

After mass a woman appeared to my bleary eyes asking “Why are you crying?'” As she embraced me I realized it was Sina, she and Friedrich were there with us once more! They met Suzy for some dinner and I went to a second mass just for pilgrims.

The pastor said this was the first of the year, these special pilgrim sessions only start in May. There were some readings related to el Camino and then he asked us to share an experience if we wanted to. I was the first to speak and told my story about falling. He translated it for everyone into Spanish. We then had a tour of the crypt, he said that St. James was given the privilege of sharing Jesus’ message to humanity and he and the other apostles were given that privilege by Jesus himself. That’s been passed along for generations and he said that the bishop had granted him the same authority. He blessed us all and said for us to ask St. James for the peace we need. It was very special.

I met up with the crew and we hit a bar for some boquerones and gambas al ajillo and some beers and then had some wine together. It will be sad to leave the Germans not knowing if we’d ever see them again. They’re going to Finisterre, being ambitious they’re going to try to do it in less than 3 days. As I headed to my hotel I crossed paths with our other German friend whose name we never caught and we hugged like long lifetime friends. This Camino breeds camaraderie.

The priest said something very interesting. He says he sees people doing the Camino over and over, they lose the feel of it and lose the lessons. They forget how to feel those same feelings they did out on the path… peace, love, magic, inspiration, simplicity, gratefulness. He said, “It’s not that we don’t want to see you back here, but we want you to take these lessons with you in your daily life.”

This is what I was reminded of when I fell. I’m humbled. I’m so grateful that I was chosen to make this journey, that my soul, heart and mind conspired against this physical shell I live in and taught it how to put one foot ahead of the other. I’m humbled by the beauty of the world and the kindness of all I encountered along the way. I’m humbled by the encouragement I’ve received from people I knew and those I didn’t. I’m humbled because I still live in complete amazement of how the universe creates miracles daily if we are only open enough to witness them and to acknowledge that they are real. I’m humbled by the friendship and support of Suzy my partner in this journey, so well matched. I’m humbled hearing people are proud of my accomplishment.

A few of you have noted that you will miss the blog posts. I would miss writing them, I was sad about that, but of course the journey is never really over right? So I’ll continue to write, not sure if it will be daily, or all about the Camino, but I hope you’ll continue to check in. I’m hoping to enjoy Santiago tomorrow and go to Finisterre by bus Friday. And I’m sure “reentry” into my “normal” life, which is so far from normal by the way, will be full of interesting anecdotes. I also hope to do some top ten lists of places to stay, eat, gear reviews etc. so let’s not say goodbye yet. Much love and prayers for you from Santiago de Compostela.

Camino de Santiago Day Thirty-Two: Melide to Santa Irene-Anticipation

1 05 2018

Suzy woke me at 7am. I’d been up a little during the night. I think it was too quiet honestly! For some reason it took me awhile to get sorted. It’s like Groundhog Day every day. Repacking everything in the pack exactly the same way to ensure that it’s weighted properly, but sometimes you forget to put something in a bag and you have to start over. The small ziplocs have given up, they’re getting tired and stretched out and refuse to seal sometimes.

We shared the room with some younger pilgrims that have become good friends on their journey. Their easy banter and flirting made me wonder how this trip would have been different for me 20-25 years ago. As we all stuffed our packs I mentioned that we wouldn’t have to do this too many more times, half with relief and half with regret.

After just a coffee and a juice it was off. Somehow we were leaving around 9, again. Why change now I suppose. On the way I had a pinch in my boot. How can I still have boot issues on Day 32? But it had to be fixed before we headed out. No reason to ruin my feet now.

There were a few points today where we were given options on our walk, we chose to cross this stream which seemed like a snap except for one narrow rock and one that wiggled, it would have been much more scary day one.

I didn’t need any more cow photos but realized these might be some of the last ones I see. I’ll miss this I thought…a beautiful day outside where my only job is to keep one foot in front of the other and keep going. I bought some chestnuts at an Oasis stand.

There were many bikes today so we had to be extra vigilant. I don’t listen to music and I can hear well but sometimes the noise of a streak or the road makes them hard to hear. Most of the time they don’t have bells and it’s impossible to look behind you with the huge pack on. You literally have to turn 180 degrees are you’ll tweak your neck or knee, so it’s hard. A girl on a bike hollered something in another language as Suzy and I walked side by side and I veered towards the right to let her pass but it turns out she was trying to pass in between the two of us in the center of this more narrow part of trail. She skidded to a stop and glared at us and sighed with a huff. Most of the other cyclists were more professional and polite but it’s still scary when they speed past you on the steep descents.

There was a lot of climbing. On and on today. And a lot of points where the trail brought you around a bend only to find you could have taken the stairs directly up. We stopped at a restaurant Cafe Milpes for lunch overlooking the valley and they thankfully had padron peppers. There’s a lovely fountain here with icy water where you can soak your feet but I’d only do that if I was done for the day. For me too risky to take off the shoes when they feel good and risk swelling and reinserting them in the boots. Crazy all these things I learned about my body. Our friend Richard walked by and we waved, funny to see him behind us again.

It was a lot of walking so two hours later we had another brief stop at a cafe to rest our bodies and watch a rooster strut around. Almost everyone from our room in Melide was also at the bar taking a break. Richard walked by again, we laughed we didn’t know we’d passed him again! Later in the day we passed him a third time and as we were trying to locate our Albergue in Santa Irene he passed us once more. I guess this is what happens daily with many groups as they stop and start but it was fun to see this leapfrogging.

As we passed another bar Sarah from back in Ages yelled to us from where she and her mother were resting for the night, it had been weeks since we saw her. She said she listens to my song a lot which made me happy.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect today for walking. It started of very cold but was sunny with mixed clouds. When you stopped to sit in the shade too long you’d get a chill but I was able to warm up quickly and enjoyed wearing a camp shirt over my tshirt to protect from the sun. We strolled through some eucalyptus groves enjoying the cool menthol smell that invigorated us. Another incentive was the continual mike markers that count down our distance. We are getting so close. My thoughts went to my ancestors and people lost to me over the years.

I also thought about all the people who helped me make this trip both with emotional and financial support. Now that I’m almost there how could I possibly remember to thank everyone, and not forget anyone? I made a conscious decision to wait a day to thank everyone individually. I will have time in Santiago to deliver the intentions I promised I would and to pray for all those that helped me and those I am thinking of but I must walk in alone. Even if Suzy is beside me we walk in alone.

We began to approach Santa Irene and ran into a friend and got distracted on our route losing our markers for a bit, finally we headed into the town and under the bridge my phone died, turns out despite all our confusion and some stress the Albergue Santa Irene privada was right there. It’s a beautiful very old house with a living room like grandma’s but more like a fancy grandma. The wood burning stove is super cozy and their kitchen is funky but with a very cool old stove in it. Although the sleeping area is a bit chilly there were plenty of blankets and it’s dark and cozy with the feel of an old stable.

With only five people here Suzy and I relished our last Albergue experience, tomorrow she gets a hotel and I get a private room. We shared a bottle of wine and talked about some of our dearly departed loved ones. Turns out she too was in that mindset during today’s walk. Tears were shed.

One of the guests opted to say not a word to us and go to bed but we enjoyed a delicious communal dinner with a couple from Italy. There was a piping hot soup with noodles and chorizo and hake (called Merluza) a whitefish. After dinner we had a digestif, the herbal orujo and retired to bed.

As we went to bed it felt a little like that excitement of Christmas Eve. You wonder what you’ll be gifted and what awaits you. I don’t know what to expect and I’m trying not to expect much. I don’t want to be disappointed and I want to remember Tomas’ words that it may not be an immediate eureka moment at the end of the Camino, it could be later.

I’m also kind of wondering what thoughts will be with me as I arrive. I have a friend who died, died just enough on the table to be brought back to life with the paddles. He told me that in those moments he saw the bright white light and saw every face of everyone he’d ever encountered. His dear mother and father who were deceased but also the faces of all the guests he’d hosted at his restaurant. He said it was incredible because it all happened simultaneously and without time. I wonder if I could be so lucky to believe that all these ideas and intentions I have for my loved ones past and present, for this universe and the world and the healing it needs, for those who I want to thank and pray for… could it all just be there with me as I enter, not written on any list but could all these thoughts come with me like balloons in a big bunch in my hand and be released into the air when I arrive. I hope so. I also hope to receive a sign that they’ve been heard. I hear it may rain today so a rainbow would be nice too.

I forgot to add that the Italian man looked up my ancestral name… Schiapapria…

He said it loosely translates to stone cutter or stone mason. I can’t help but wonder if there may be an ancient connection to the Knights Templar and the Masons. Maybe this is my mission to learn more about my past and my history to better understand my present.

Camino de Santiago Day Thirty-One: Gonzar to Melide-Reunion

1 05 2018

In the middle of the night I woke to hear someone snoring like crazy, sawing logs so to speak. Seemed almost peaceful. But then I heard the snorer that must have woke me. There was a huge sigh followed by a choking sound as his airway no doubt shut. One second, two seconds, three seconds, four and “Archt!!!” He inhaled. Then there was an exhale like the purr of a cat that grew into a growl and finally erupted in a huge almost Big Bird type wheezing and then words, unintelligible but words erupted from the man. And repeat. I kept thinking he’d died. The echo off the stone walls made it impossible to determine where it was actually coming from, or I would have sacrificed a sock to throw at him. I eventually fell asleep again but luckily lightly or else I would have fallen out of the top bunk which had absolutely no guard rails or wall on either side to remind me not to roll over too far. At dawn many left quietly and I got up slowly again. I glared around trying to determine the culprit but to no avail. Likely he slunk out in the veil of darkness.

With a line for the two bathrooms we opted to wait out the rush, coffee wasn’t available until Isa arrived at 8 anyway. The older woman arrived a little earlier and was nice enough to cut the chill of the cold morning by making a nice wood fire in the stove.

The last of the pilgrims began to evacuate the dorm and one was a woman we’d seen the night before but hadn’t talked to. Erika originally from Austria now lives in Canada and this is her 16th Camino and her 90th year on earth. I mean how amazing. Very unlike some of the Camino alums we come across, she was very soft spoken and didn’t offer information not requested. I’m so sick of some of the braggarts who are on their 7th Camino and want to tell you exactly how to do your first. I’m sure they’re well meaning but some offer too much telling you where to go, where not to go, what to do and doing so incessantly as if they have nothing else to say. The whole idea, for me at least, is that each Camino is distinctly different. Suggestions are welcome but there is no need to have someone completely guide you. I’ve seen too many Camino experts with their friends telling them exactly where they should stop and not allowing them to folios their hearts and just walk. I don’t know, maybe I’m just very sensitive to it but I wonder how can you enjoy a Camino through someone else’s eyes like that. I’d rather bring a newbie along and see what they see and let them lead so as to live a new Camino next time. There have been so many times when Suzy and I shrugged off a suggestion and just followed our instincts and witnessed magic.

This woman was so humble and sweet and was traveling her very last Camino to say goodbye to her favorite hospitaleros and eventually meet up with some friends along the way and in Mallorca. She can’t walk as well anymore so now she takes cabs along the areas that are too steep. She does this walk with a cane. She was so inspiring. She too is doing the Camino her way.

We were so warm and cozy and fuzzy in this sweet room with the fire roaring but we had to head out into the cold. We bid them farewell and headed on a little late at 9:15.

The crowd was much smaller as we reached the trails. My toe is miraculously healed 100%. I think it was a combination, two days of the thinner Darn Tough socks, moving the water bottle to the opposite side of the pack, less heat in general out on the walk and one or two nights of applying Savannah Bee royal jelly bee body butter on my feet and covering them in the Swiftwick socks for a few hours. I think bee products are amazing and I’m so glad I’d stashed these sample packets I found at the Fancy Food Show in my pack.

It was misty but not raining heavily as walked along. Upon entering Ligonde we saw a woman selling cheese from her kitchen window. She invited me to enter her driveway to take a photo of her cows and hens. The extra minutes as they often do resulted in a day of “coincidences” although most that walk this route will agree that you run into who you’re supposed to, there are no accidents.

As we merged back into what had become a larger group we suddenly saw Claudia! She said she’d gotten a lot of peaceful days alone for quiet contemplation. she said most of the folks we knew are around us now as we funnel into Santiago.

We were on the lookout for our friend Jean who we’d met in Valverde del Virgen and then saw later on. He’d told us to come to Ligonde to see him. We almost missed him as we were talking to Claudia but Suzy caught sight of the small alcove where they were serving coffee and tea to pilgrims for a donation and offering a cozy warm place to rest.

We saw Jean immediately as we entered and it was incredible the feeling of elation we all had upon being reunited. I mean we only spent about 3 hours total together in a lifetime, but these Camino connections are intense. We were invited to have coffee and place a pin on the map of where we were from. We met some other Americans from Arizona and then As wee were to leave Jean asked us for one more song. He told us he was so pleased to meet us and that we were a ray of light for him. So of course we obliged. One of the other volunteer hospitaleros, Alke, offered us a cowboy guitar rather than the Spanish one they had ready to play and I started to play my song “Carpe Diem”.

It goes “Well I can’t tell you where I’m going, I don’t remember where I’ve been, storm clouds seem to be blowing, I’m walking straight into the wind. I feel just like an apparition, a pilgrim in purgatory, on the way to the next Mission, seeds to sow and crops to reap…”

I noticed more and more pilgrims coming in, my audience was growing! But then i realized it wasn’t my sultry crooning that had attracted them but rather it was pouring rain, New Orleans style rain, outside.

Suzy played a song and then Alke played some songs by David Crowder. Jean showed me where they’re living and eating and I for some reason got choked up when he said, “Maybe you’ll come live here in your next lifetime.” I think he meant later in your life but is just learning English, but it still struck me somehow and I started crying thinking of how sad I was to leave this life and these new friends of the road. We waited a little longer and put on all our rain gear and said our goodbyes and stepped out into the rain. And suddenly it was gone. As we passed some other pilgrims going down a rocky stream bed made worse by the rain they marveled at the fact that we were completely dry.

We hadn’t really eaten lunch so we stopped at a place called Formiga with big iron ant statues in the garden. By now it was nice enough to sit outside so we did and I got a plate of chorizo and local Ulloa cheese and a wine. I went back for another wine and as I was coming back outside was amazed to see Friedrich and then Sina!! It had been so long and we all embraced so excited to be back together. They’d said they’d gotten faster and done some really big days. They also said our other German friends are close maybe behind or maybe ahead. And luckily we finally shared our info, we’d seen them so often we hadn’t thought we’d need to reach out to them but now we know we can. They joined us for awhile and then it was off again, we were going farther than most.

About a minute into our walk it hit, hard driving hail!! It pelted our faces and then became freezing cold rain. This the last day of April and ridiculous weather! I was soaked but luckily it stopped another 1.5km later and we got to dry out. There was one more stop before our last few hours at Albergue Santo Domingo which would have been a nice place to stay but we wanted to cut this down to get to Santiago on May 2.

We rolled into Melide through a boring industrial park, then a forest, a small town and finally boring suburbs and checked into Albergue San Anton which was nice. Very clean quiet smaller rooms.

Soon after our showers we headed off to where we’d seen some cute wine bars. I was in horrible pilgrim attire, I mean really bad. Suzy said I looked homeless which technically I am out here. I had on my saggy grey leggings, a black tank and button down shirt, a purple puffy jacket, pink pashmina and the clincher Crocs sandals with socks.

There were three main wine bars and we went for the middle one. There were a few families in there and a baby was crying so we thought it looked like a nice spot. We ordered two vino tintos and the calamares and were offered two pintxos of jamon. We did notice there was a guy with a jamon leg slicing it in the window but thought it must be just a special promo.

We sat there and enjoyed watching the bar fill up. The owner burst in with multiple large format bottles of wine, mostly Rioja, some magnum bottles some even larger than that, some were even 5 liters! We thought he was just doing a photo shoot but he then started opening all the bottles! We asked what we needed to do to try them and she said just order. We got two glasses of the Pago de Capellanes Ribera del Duero 2013 and then a Ribera Sacra made of Mencia. They were delicious! We still didn’t quite comprehend as more and more people flooded in and they started walking around with more pintxos of tortilla and also small empanadas. We had initially thought we’d go get a glass and another bite at another bar, but the staff was in the weeds (restaurant talk for swamped) and we had now eaten enough for dinner! It was so weird how busy it was being Monday after all. Finally we asked what was going on and discovered this was all special for their one year anniversary and we’d just stumbled upon it. So amazing the timing and our luck. We couldn’t stay forever and the bar was so full the owner needed to clear the bar stools so we headed back to the Albergue to gather our laundry in time for our 11pm curfew.

Today was all about reunions with our friends from the trail, so rewarding to know that they too were wondering about us and where we were. This crazy little family of ours born out of seemingly random timing and coincidence, many of these people will become lifelong friends. Even if we never find them again many will live in our hearts forever and be in our thoughts whenever we think of this time in our lives. It’s so special. It makes me sad to see the end, but I’m hopeful that we will have one more big reunion in Santiago.

We are going big again tomorrow. We want to get to Santiago soon.

20.1 miles today, 47 flights according to the iPhone. Dog tired.