Camino de Santiago Day Two: Valcarlos to Espinal

1 04 2018

Photo by Suzy Cameleon

I cannot believe this intense feeling of exhilaration I feel right now.  We have crossed the Pyrenees and a waterfall!

While yesterday was about variable weather today was more about incredibly variable terrain.  The weather today was just stunning, bright sun and although it started out cold, around 35, warmed up in places to the mid 50s F.  We left Valcarlos a little late, 8:50, they suggested we try to leave on he early side as there would be some Easter celebration traffic and we soon found they were right.  The first part of the route went through Valcarlos and then soon deposited us onto the highway.  The traffic got more frequent as we walked but I cannot imagine what tourist season would be like with lots of traffic because there are no sidewalks and you’re basically walking right on the highway.  At one point we saw what looked like black slugs or maybe leeches in the grass, there’s been so much rain that there are little rivers flowing down the side of the road and it’s very wet.  The road is a challenging part because you must be ever vigilant to try to be on the side of the road with the most clearance and sometimes have to cross to prevent being behind a blind curve.  For many stretches you’re literally on the white line at the edge of the lane.  Up up up!  Around lots of switchbacks.

We were relieved when this stretch ended and the guideposts pointed left and we went down to the river and past a pretty house.  Then it was up a somewhat steep grade on terrain that was basically wet fractured slate and rock with vegetation and wet leaves all over it.  Getting a foothold was challenging and I was so grateful to have my poles.  The area is also narrow and a bit scary for me at least.  I did enjoy the lush scenery, it was very serene with mossy trees and the sound of the swift rushing water was musical rather than the whizzing of cars in our ears.  Little bridges cross the river in places and it seems like gnomes and fairies are watching from the mossy tree stumps.  And it was mostly uphill!

After another short stint on the road we were again on a hill with a steep drop off, it was a drier type of vegetation with lots of spiky vines and plants that it you’re not careful can get through your pants and scratch you.  Meanwhile the path is super narrow and scary and in one place had washed away so we had to climb past some of those spiky plants to get around.  Then there were patches of slippery mud.  And still up, up, up…

After awhile we turned a corner to hit another forest with more shade and less scrub and a beautiful wide leaf strewn path, still tons of mud but less stressful to navigate.  As we kept going up up up we started to see snow on the ground and large moss-covered trees knocked over by storms.  When looking up it appeared we were getting very close to the peak which was good because our hearts were pounding and our legs were burning.  We tried to sing a few spirituals from Oh Brother Where Art Though to get us to the top of the mountain both mentally and physically (sometimes singing helps me remember to breathe).

As we got to the top of the forest I could hear cars again and as we rounded the back of a tile roofed farmhouse to our astonishment we saw that it wasn’t the top of the mountain, not even close.  Just a little bit of road walking and there was a fountain and a stone bench to sit on.

We took a little rest and caught our breath. I think both of us were wondering how much further it could be. The next leg of the path looked inviting though and so we plodded onward, and up, up, up! We were it in what seemed like a conifer forest with snow on either side of the path, then eventually slush all over the path, then full snow, about 4 inches covered the path making a distinct squish squish squish noise as we rose even further over the valley. We could now see the house by the road was way below us. We soon heard the loud rushing water and saw a waterfall in front of us with a steep ravine to our left… no bridge here just determination and secure footing could get us across, I was unsure of myself since there had been so much snow and rain and I have an intense fear of falling and the water was really rushing but I made it.

Finally we came to the top, oh wait nope another hill but the end was in sight, at the top of the stairs.

We were finally at Ibaneta, a little snowy peak where kids were sledding. After an informal prayer with our own bread and wine we began our descent. A tour group who had no idea what we’d just been through had just been dropped to make the descent into Roncevalles with us and were navigating the slick and snowy muck. I was struck by their varying levels of abilities and a tear came to my eye as I watched them struggle, thinking how my fear almost got the best of me many times today, and they were experiencing their own fear on this stretch as well. They had made a commitment to walk the Camino in whatever was they could.

It was a relief to get to Roncevalles where we got our credentials stamped and stopped for lunch and wine, the pilgrim menu was delicious at Casa Sabina 10 Euro for two courses, coffee and wine. We said hi to some ponies and took the requisite photo with the sign… 790 km to go.

It was onwards towards Espinal our stop for the night. The next leg was thankfully though very muddy and the forest was full of holly trees. We learned that the Sorginaritz forest translates into Oakwood of Witches, it was where many covens were said to congregate. It leads to the town of Burgete where nine of these witches were burned in the square to persecute them for their. Non-Christian beliefs and pagan practices.

Past Burgete is farmland with grazing horses, sheep and cattle and a view from where we came. We took it slow enjoying the flat wide farm path and the various animals.

just when we thought we were home free another hill loomed and we chanted “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” to muster our strength up the last steep incline.

And we reached Espinal and walked to our Albergues Irugoiena just in the outskirts of town. What a day. The albergue has both dorms 10, 5 we opted to get a double room for 22,5 Euros. Everything was closed as it was Easter Sunday but we had a great dinner made by Luis who does everything at the albergue 6am to 9pm for six full months every single day! Then he has six months off to enjoy hiking the snowy peaks here. We slept comfortably and happily and this morning had a nice breakfast and now it’s off on another journey!

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 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.

Journey to Italy Day One, Two and Maybe Three

27 05 2010

May 25-26, 2010

Always one to cut things close, I decided that it would be no problem at all to roll three projects into one the last two weeks of May.  That’s not including a huge tasting of 115 Ribera del Duero wines earlier in the month and multiple other business such as the launch of the SF Chefs 2010 website and ticket sales and a few wine buff commitments.  Overall I knew I was making the month insane for myself but I can’t very often say no and surely I was not going to say no to a trip to Italy to visit Luce, Frescobaldi and Arnaldo Caprai.

So May 18 is really when my crazy journey began.  I packed two suitcases (more like lots of planning and then tossing everything into two bags and hoping for the best)  one which traveled with me and the other that my husband was going to exchange with me later in the week (Southwest doesn’t charge for two bags!  I flew Virgin America to LAX).  I flew into LAX where I picked up a rental car for my journey to the Inland Empire to judge the Los Angeles International Wine Competition (May 18-21), stay the weekend and run the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition (May 23-25).  Both were a blast and filled with lots of partying and great people, and luckily my husband helps me with spirits so I was able to see him again (and exchange bags) before heading off, same day as the end of the competition, to LAX for my flight to Munich/Florence.  I arrived at the airport at 4:30 for a 9 pm flight (way too early in my opinion) and was greeted by the fact that there is very little to do at LAX Int’l terminal.  Had a wedge salad and a beer at the Daily Grill, it was acceptable only because of the double power outlet next to me and a friendly waitress, but otherwise uneventful.  At least LAX has free wireless out there.  In true Chapa fashion more beers were had at the airport bar to allow for plane sleep.

I flew Lufthansa, suspiciously comfortable and easy despite the lack of seat pockets for my stuff.  I watched the Princess and the Frog (made me cry when the firefly died) with my meal, enjoyed some Nero d’Avola/Syrah and dozed off watching Up in the Air.  I found myself rudely awakened by a jerky guy who decided he wanted to wake up the plane by opening his window shade, but luckily another 45 minutes later they were serving breakfast (finished watching the movie, all movies are available at your leisure and can be stopped or fast forwarded which was cool) and we were almost there.  Despite my aisle seat and no neck pillow I awoke all chipper and happy, so of course there would need to be some type of crazy twist right?

Got to Munich, relatively easy deplaning and rechecking and then I walked into their gorgeous terminal complete with luxury cars on display and boutiques, Kiehls, Jo Malone and MAC right when you enter, got some free lotion to revive my dried out body and then went to the pharmacy where they had my favorite shower gel, Korres Basil Lemon, which I have been missing since I forgot to pack it a week ago.  Things were great, I grabbed a Weissbier (ya gotta when you are only in Germany for an hour.)  So things were clearly too good to be true.

My flight was completely cancelled due to equipment failure so they are routing me through Bologna and then taking me on a ground transfer to Florence.  Only adds another three or four hours to the trip, but at this point does that really matter?

I am trying not to let it get me and instead I am taking the opportunity to explore the airport.  Nothing like the smell of the duty free store to refresh you after a long trip, wish I had my perfume books on hand so I could do some investigating.  The good thing about this airport is they may not have wireless but they do have the Allianz Arena, a news lounge open to all passengers where you can visit news sites.  Although I couldn’t get onto my Earthlink webmail, but apparently they think that Facebook and Twitter qualify as “News”.  I was able to connect to my friends/family although at first it tried to bump me off.  The keyboard wasn’t so easy to type on with the y and z interchanged and so while they had Word Press too I opted to write this on my laptop instead.   The also bump you off after about 20 minutes, but there seem to be plenty of terminals.

Another great feature of this airport is multiple free coffee and tea stations!  Although I had vowed to wait until Italy for a coffee, I have to say that automatic machine makes a mean espresso macchiato, so despite the 14 hours of travel I am still relatively awake and hopeful that this is an adventure not a debaucle through Bologna.  See you in Firenze.

May 27, 2010 1:33 AM

Well I finally made it to Florence after more than 25 hours of travel.  I arrived in Bologna around 10:30 and had to wait about an hour for a bus to take us to Florence which took at least an hour.  Of course there was no one waiting so I had to grab a cab and get cash before I made it to my hotel, Grand Hotel Villa Medici, but luckily the hotel was still open (at about 1am) and very friendly and I came up to my room to find a delicious fruit bowl and a bottle of Frescobaldi Bubbles.  I quickly jumped into my bathing suit and ran down to the piscine (pool) and hopped into some pretty cold but invigorating water.  That along with the bubbles is washing all the worries of my travel away, but I have an early day tomorrow so I must crash ASAP.   Grand Hotel Villa Medici was a palace in the 1700s and now as part of SINA Fine Italian Hotels it meshes historical ambiance with contemporary comfort.

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 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-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.

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.