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

25 04 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 04 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear Not.

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

23 04 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 04 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Camino de Santiago Day Twenty Teradillos de Templarios to Burgo de Ranero Perserverence

20 04 2018

The rustle started early in our room of four with headlamps or maybe even a camping light involved. There was a huge plasticky sound like perhaps something being pushed through that metallic stuff through one of those plastic blister packs like a medication, but it was almost ear splitting to me at 6:30am.

We lay there waiting for them to leave and crept out of bed once the litany of spitting, hacking, coughing and other unmentionable sounds ceased their eruption from the bathroom next door.

After a coffee and a banana we eased on down the road. The weather was perfect, just a soft slightly up and down road with actual turns! Vistas and towns opened up to us, so refreshing after the featureless landscape yesterday.

Sadly we got word from Heino that after a day of trying to walk he woke up both literally and physically to the realization that he cannot continue and began making his exit plans to return to Germany. We shed some tears in the first mile of the walk thinking of what a brightly burning positive energy he has. Funny that the only time we really walked together was on the way into Burgos. Heino wanted to go right at the fork along the industrial route and we opted to go left along the river route. We said “See you later!” Truly we believed we would as the Camino tends to reconnect you with the people you need to be connected to… but now I’m not as sure. I hope somehow our paths will cross again and he’ll always hold a special spot in my heart, but how realistic is it to think that we’d actually see each other again in the real world. But who knows, it’s really a metaphor for life people cross paths, maybe walk together for awhile and then take different courses. Anyway our thoughts go out to Heino and we hope he realizes this is not a failure just a setback.

Our walk was a little more interesting as it went through a few cute towns. One town had adorable sweaters knit around the trees in the square. We tried to manifest seeing a bird we haven’t seen before, maybe a condor or a cuckoo (we’ve heard so many but they’re elusive), by saying that we were going to see a new bird and soon we came across a tiny tree planted for Reverend Wren who passed away on The Way…

We came across some cool cellars called monasterios that are built into the mountains initially used to cellar wine.

On the way to San Nicolas del Real Camino we saw a sign for The 2nd Bar saying it was cool so we went there and sat outside the really cute bar. It had a John Deere sign inside and was playing an amazing music list you can find on Spotify at flip220 called Mananas. It was like a mix of alt country and Middle Eastern beats totally bizarre but so cool. We had a fresh squeezed orange juice (zumo de naranja) and I don’t understand why we don’t have these machines in every cafe in the U.S. As we were leaving the town we saw a barn filled with John Deere tractors seems maybe the guy was the local Deere repairman as he was tinkering away on one with his dog nearby.

There have been many questions about my John Deere hat, and sadly no I am not sponsored by the company but hey if they’re interested have them contact me! I’ve always loved farms and farm stuff. Carhaart jackets and The John Deere logo. My great grandfather “Pop” had a farm in Factoryville, PA and I loved the old wooden structures, hay bales all of it. Later in life I wrote a song about him although my Great Aunt Connie, his daughter, upon listening said she liked the song but that Pop was more “Fancy man” than farmer. Still I just dig farms. Bought a John Deere t-shirt last time I got to go to the cowboy/feed store place in Richland, WA, so… so this summer my friend gave my his John Deere hat in exchange for The Hungry Minnow hat I gave him. So I love this hat. I had to decide which hat to bring and at the last minute this was he one. He had my back all summer helping me not lose my mind at the restaurant and helping out however he could. He has also had my back quite literally due to his Boy Scout training by helping me fit my backpack properly. I have to say it didn’t feel so good at first but learning that he pack needs to sit on the hips and the waist needs to be cinched is vital. This is so important as your hips need to carry the weight not your back or you’ll inadvertently do damage to your back. I can feel that it’s right and see the bruises on my hips showing that my core is carrying the weight. So anyway long story, love the logo, love the hat and grateful it has been shading me these hot days.

So as the day languished on our energy FB became less. We stopped for a light lunch but it was so hot we weren’t very hungry. We tried to stay up and hydrated but the heat or maybe also the long “senda” or track along the road was draining our energy. There was no singing, no joking, no dancing after tractor town. Each section seemed to go on forever with no purpose. Ugh. We stopped briefly in Bercianos for a drink and more water and then on basically stopping every 20 minutes if we could find a teeny bit of shade. There was hardly any.

Finally at our destination a town where a lot of tractors seemed to be stopped, Burgo de Ranero. Well, no room at the Albergue Domenico Laffi. We’d read that the other two albergues were “filthy” on Trip Advisor so I began to panic… oh and also Suzy’s bag did not arrive. I zipped into Albergue de Pelegrino and they had a simple room with a bath and two beds for 45 Euro, seemed pricey but I was terrified we would not get anything and we literally couldn’t walk another step. Luckily the place is great. I was healed with a glass of Verdejo and the bartender gave me a piece of tortilla (eggs with potato) and a tapa of jamon for free. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner for 11 Euro including wine and the family that runs the place is super sweet. We even ran into our friend who was a bit overzealous talking about ethanol having no flavor the other night and he apologized in case he was boorish. He’s a great guy and we enjoyed chatting with him again. Suzy is hoping the bag will be delivered today at our next destination!

The pain and heat and length of today and all the trials and tribulations made me think about my life. I’m very lucky to have it easy. People are living with chronic pain out there and I cannot imagine how hard that must be. I know someone who has the best attitude about that, they take each day as a gift and instead of wallowing in sadness make the effort to be happy because what is the alternative? I also knew someone living in chronic pain who made the terrible choice to end his life. He was that same kind of person. He never let anyone see his pain. These people I have known too many… and whether that pain is mental or physical sometimes we cannot see it. Today my intention is to walk for those that are hurting without letting the world see. I pray that they can find some relief.

Camino de Santiago Day Nineteen: Carrion de Condes to Terrasilla de Templarios Gratitude

18 04 2018

I slept pretty well in my comfy bed but got a little cold at about 4 am and I was too lazy to grab a blanket. The places now are on the no heat program since it’s basically not freezing out so although there is heat they’re not turning it on. The place was peaceful and waking was very chill, no crazy rustling. We grabbed a quick coffee and some pastries with Jessie at a shop around the corner and loaded up on water for the long haul. On the way we saw the local fishmonger selling his fish to the market next door. He honked at us about an hour and a half down the road in a different city making the rounds…

This stretch is 11 miles with NO facilities at all! We were a bit turned around getting out of Carrion but headed out of town and onto a very long long boring trail. It had little water collection troughs on either side and since there’s been so much rain there was a lot of stagnant water around thus tons of gnats. Luckily they didn’t bite but they were so irritating. They fly into your ears, nose and eyes and are just generally annoying.

“Keep on going! Nothing to see here!” Suzy chirped and we kept going. Many songs came to me during the walk and I felt pretty energetic. We stopped at km 13 at an area with rest tables but little else and are our Jamon and truffled rice cakes and a mandarine and drank some water and a woman asked us for water and Suzy offered her some of hers and an egg.

It was really nice out, not a cloud in the sky and about 72 degrees, quite warm when you’re walking and with a heavy pack on even more so, something to consider as my pack was much heavier due to wearing less clothes and the extra food and water.

We joked about Carrion de Condes, literally translating to carrion of the condor and at one point Suzy posed for a funny photo shoot. At times it felt like the condors might circle you out there if you were to run out of water! Sometimes on the long flats you just have to entertain yourselves anyway you can.

I actually felt pretty great. Ros-i-toe, my name for my new little toe, is much improved. I really believe there was something special and healing about staying with the sisters at the convent. It makes all the difference in the world so our pace was fast. I tried to estimate it using the bpm (beats per minute) feature on a guitar app I have. I’ve heard in songwriting classes that everyone has their own rhythm and sometimes your songs naturally fit into that time stamp. At any rate it seemed like 97 was mine for this walk. Pole-step step, pole-step step. I saw people on the road weaving and meandering around the trail, to each their own, but I find it much more enjoyable to catch that rhythm. Suzy and I are luckily very much in sync. Still it was the kind of walk where we each departed into our own place for awhile. After about an hour of sing alongs (Rocky Mountain High, Jessie’s Girl, and my medley of show tunes from Pippin and Dreamgirls) we peeled away from each other while still walking in tandem. Suzy turned on her iPod and I just entered a contemplative state. The song Corner of the Sky from Pippin had come to me but I could not remember the lyrics until about another half hour they came flooding back as if the walking had allowed me to peel back layers of dusty newspaper off my brain to access this small treasure of a memory carefully wrapped in faded tissue like a Christmas ornament.

Finally an oasis from the long haul a bar! The men near us commented first in German and then in uneasy English as we raced forward, “You look like two horses that see the barn!”

It felt so good to sit in some shade as there is no shade on that strip. We were able to finish our water and get more and chat with some pilgrims we’d seen around. One Italian has been walking since Milan. He took a bus midway through Italy as they’ve got limited pilgrim infrastructure but then started up again. He has no money basically, hasn’t had a job for six months before he left in February. He has a 20 kilo pack which is hard in his body so he was on a rest… he has camping gear in there. He said some of the municipal and parochial Albergues donate a stay and food to him. He even got a rain jacket at one when he was desperate and he left them with a sweatshirt for someone to come. This network of hospitality is really incredible. If there is something you need all you have to do is ask. This young man is walking to Lisbon after Finisterre (Fisterre) to stay with family and hopefully find a job since there are few prospects he says back in Italy.

After our rest we caught up to Sina and Friedrich and walked for awhile. We spoke a bit about money as this for me was a factor that almost made me decide not to walk… could I afford it? Could I afford NOT to go? But Nantucket is so seasonal I Aldo thought that although I’m missing some work there’s really not that much happening there yet. Spain is very affordable, the food is pretty inexpensive and wine is cheaper than beer, sometimes less than 1 Euro for a glass! As we descended into the town I told her I hope that this investment in my own sanity, mental health and development will pay off one day or maybe I’ll just have to become a hospitalero in an Albergue. A few minutes later the four of us came across a man walking the other direction. He showed us his pilgrim passport and his Compostela from Santiago. He was headed in the other direction to work in an Albergue but had no money for food and lodging for tonight. Suzy had change and Friedrich donated as well.

After another leisurely stop in the next town to catch our breath and chat with an Aussie vineyard owner from Margaret River we made the last leg into Terradillos de Templarios. Someone said this is the actual halfway point of the Camino. We stayed at Jacques de Molay a cute spot with a lively outside patio and opted for the beds rather than bunks for 10 Euro. Good spot although upon entering our room one roommate informed us of his sleep disorder and the fact that was why he was trying to sleep at 5pm. We tried to be respectful but it was hard to get settled with someone sleeping there. Dinner was great and the scene very peaceful. This Albergue also has tons of toilet paper and even soap and paper towels in the bathroom! This is luxury.

Tomorrow we’ve decided on a big day…19 miles. Today was only 16.8, but we need to make a jump to give us a few extra days at the end so I can go home! That word home, omg. It’s crazy how lonely you can feel when you’re surrounded by people all the time. It’s a weird sensation.

i want to express my gratitude to the many many people out there supporting me on my journey. Special thanks to Nova Cadamatre who kindly sponsored my gray hiking pants, my Smartwool “magic” sweater, super comfy and vital silk sleep sack and my hiking poles that are so so necessary! Thanks to my husband Michael for providing me the time to do this and who is not only dealing with taxes for us but also supporting my jobs back at home and generally helping me feel like everything is going to be ok no matter what. He’s also taking care of my dear terrier Chamuco. Thank you to all the folks who helped with my practice hikes both east and west… Peter Palmer (Marin Headlands), Beccy Breeze (Big Sur), Kimberly Charles (SF Lands End), Grant & Ema Johnson (Nantucket). Thanks to Paul Berard for teaching me how to fit my pack and how to weight it properly. Thanks to Cliff Munkres and Mayumi and to Jonny Soto and Rani for your encouragement to make the walk. To Jodi Bronchtein for reminding me that I wanted to do this and telling me that the option wasn’t an option, I’d been chosen.

I have many more thanks upcoming…don’t worry I haven’t forgotten you all!

Camino de Santiago Day Eighteen: Fromista to Carrion de Condes Faith

17 04 2018

Despite the initial stench of the room at the municipal the air cleared and we were able to get a restful sleep. I was terrified to get down from the bunk in the morning with wobbly legs but did ok and we went next door to the Bar San Martin for a quick breakfast. We were excited to hit the road a little earlier and to see our long shadows leading us along.

I have to say my foot and right toe hurt quite a bit. It seemed like it was just not right in the shoe no matter what I did. Incredibly though once I’d take about 30 steps I could tune it out and ignore it but if I stopped at all it hurt again. Luckily there was really no where to stop. We passed by a new Albergue that we think would have been a good stop maybe instead of the municipal.

The path started along the highway then gave us an option for an alternate route alongside farmland which was pretty, but no towns save Villavieco and it’s abandoned playground and bar.

An old man pulled up to us in his car to give us candy in Villamentero. We stopped after about three and a half hours in Villacazar de Sirga for a rest.

We set out again for Carrion Des Condes and happened upon a woman from Germany we had yet to see. Quickly our paces all matched and the next stretch all the way to the town went so fast! She’d stayed there before as in this very stretch had an injury that was almost insurmountable requiring her to stay here for four days to heal at the Albergue run by the Hijas de San Vincente de Paul, nuns. It was of course where Suzy and I had already sent her bag. We had such a great and emotional talk and are so glad to have made a connection with someone who has so much spirit! Her name is Jessie. It’s funny because we were just asking for some more stories of why people were here more inspiration… we’d found some people maybe weren’t ready to share and others didn’t know, so it felt like we were meant to connect at just that moment.

The nuns checked us in, the first we met was named Guadalupe she told me when I showed her the Virgen de Guadalupe necklace in my pouch. We were presented with a Virgin Mary pendant and the cost to stay is 5 Euros! That place is airy and bright and spotless although they’re doing a lot of construction outside. All the beds are on one level if the high ceilinged rooms, formerly a girl’s school. I showered and dealt with some more toe surgery… seems like my nail is raised and split and causing the problems. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve cut off enough nail and skin to fix it.

We all settled in and then set out to get some food, I’d really been craving Gambas a La Plancha and of course the universe provides and we found an amazing place with Gambones and Langoustinas, bothbtranslated on the menu as “prawns”…so we got both although surprisingly the Langoustinas were the smaller ones. They were a bit more salty and the Gambones a bit sweeter and more meaty. Both delicious! Then onto the well equipped grocery in town to stock up on snacks. We were warned that this next stretch has absolutely nothing (no water, food, facilities) for 17.2 miles.

A group of us decided to go to mass, only to find that there are at least five churches in the town. We got directions from another church worker and headed up through the town. I’m the only one of this group to really speak Spanish but at times it seems like more than that… I honestly feel like I’ve been in these towns before. I never feel lost.

We made it there not too far into the mass and as soon as it was done lights were put out and the pastor immediately departed. We wondered about the etiquette again, Jessie went right after the pastor to ask if we could receive a special pilgrim blessing. For some reason it made me cry when the father blessed us.

Back at the Albergue we gathered our clothes that had been drying on the line and set out our fun foods on the table for our snacking pilgrim feast. Everyone shared and other pilgrims even gave us extra wine they didn’t need. Friedrich and Sina are staying here too which is nice. There’s also a girl stuck here now two days so far with shin splints. This seems to be a good place to be “stuck” though.

At 10 they locked us in and at 10:15 the nuns came and put us to bed shutting out the lights. I feel like a Spanish version of Madeleine here in these rows of beds with the nuns caring for us so sweetly.

“Good night little girls! Thank the Lord you are well, now go to sleep.” Said Miss Clavel.

-Ludwig Bemelmans

Camino de Santiago Day Seventeen: Itero de la Vega to Fromista Patience

17 04 2018

When we woke up today we both were still exhausted. These last 16 days have been no joke and while other pilgrims have been spending time to recuperate our “slow” days are 15 miles! So today we decided to walk much closer, only to Fromista, to get ourselves back on the right track since the next few legs are big and have very few cities in between. We didn’t want to get stuck in the same situation as yesterday with a not so big town with few beds.

We got good news that Heino is on the mend and thinks he can restart the Camino soon. He bussed back to Hornillos we are hoping to cross paths with him again and we are also hopeful he doesn’t overdo it.

We ran into the guy from Holland on the way out of Itero de la Vega and the mangey white cat was there to say goodbye. We had no options for breakfast so we just started walking. Another Meseta lesson… we packed our extra food so we’d have something just in case… a good idea.

Out of Itero de l Vega there is a long track that heads to the next town Boadilla. We joked and called it Breakfast town, then as the hours went on it became Bocadilla like the word for sandwich because despite leaving Itero de la Vega at 9 we didn’t reach Boadilla until 11:15. We were excited to get a coffee and some eggs or just a sandwich and it looked like a good sign that the stray cats in this town were better cared for.

I met a horse and we headed to a little bar Tita and they had no food no eggs luckily some coffee and only two lame little sandwiches sitting on the counter. What kind of sandwich town is this?!??

We dove into our snack bag and finished off the meat and cheese.

Not much other reason to hang around we set out and started walking a very long flat path to Fromista alongside the Canal Castillo. The path is sandy and steady and generally easy but seems to go on forever. Luckily we were distracted by a flash of brown weaseling across the road. I thought there’d be no way to catch up to it but saw a rustle in the grass and there it was! It was some sort of ermine, mink, ferret who knows but it was laying in the grass with its head hidden as if it thought that if it couldn’t see us we would not see him. I tried getting out a hazelnut but it wasn’t interested in it. But it did then come writhing out of the grass closer to us. As I tried to get in to take a photo I gave Suzy one of my poles… just in case. I could envision the creature who looked so harmless lurching out of the weeds and attaching to my neck. Suzy would be grasping for the tail as it went for my jugular… but luckily that didn’t happen. We watched him for a while cleaning his fur, he was super cute and an entertaining diversion on the boring road.

On along the canal which was pretty and we got to the dam/dike at the entry to Fromista. Over the narrow bridge and onward.

Fromista was cute but smaller than expected. When we got in we found the Municipal Albergue, Suzy opted to ship the bag there so we could go wherever. It wasn’t open yet so we had some lunch at the Hotel San Martin. I had some delicious calamares fritos and a glass of Montecillo Rioja. We decided to just go ahead and stay at the municipal, the woman there was so nice, Carmen, and it was 9 Euro and the bag was there so… it seemed clean enough. She also had some incense burning which was soothing.

It was siesta time so the grocers were closed but I was able to get some cash. I headed back to the Albergue to shower up and there was really only two bathroom stalls and two showers and the showers had very little space to change so I had my clothes over the top of the door and on a windowsill and had my towel around me and reached out one by one for my clothing. There were also two urinals in this coed space which was a little awkward, not exactly what I want next to me while brushing my teeth. There was a lot of testosterone up in that place only three women in our room of 12 beds… and it seems some men just think it’s fine to just let it all hang out in these places. Some clearly didn’t realize that there was a coed situation going on in the bathroom as Suzy went in to use the toilet only to find a half naked man there in the doorway looking at himself in the mirror.

Anyway I got clean and took a brief nap after a precarious climb onto the top bunk. It was cold as there is no heat this time of year, and the windows were open in the rooms, but they did have a wood stove going in a room where you can hang out and eat. We were able to get more snacks at the grocer later. We left our laundry with Carmen, for 9 Euros she washed and dried our stuff leaving just a few light weight items for us to dry on the line. I was so grateful as my stuff was filthy. The black pants were stiff with mud and the magic shirt was losing its magic… we headed into town for dinner and ran into Sina and Friedrich who were eating at a cute spot. We went in and had an amazing meal, a rack of pork ribs with potatoes, wine, bottled water and dessert for 10 Euro.

Back at the ranch our clothes were in a basket in a room filled with people, the communal room was toasty and comfortable but people were in little cliques it wasn’t the same camaraderie as we’d felt before. We folded our laundry and it felt so good to have clean things.

Upon re-entering the room we were struck by an intense odor of well I don’t even want to speculate. It was not traditional BO, feet, perhaps, just so gross. But we both scrambled up into our beds and made the best of it dabbing some of my essential oil on my wrists to offset the intensity. I slept well, not a ton of snoring and gassiness despite the number of men… and it was warm enough in my silk sleep sack with puffy blanket. Getting (climbing) down from the top bunk was stressful. This morning we had to be out at 8am… at 7:30 the manager came in to clean which consisted of shaking out the mattresses, smoothing the bedsheets around the mattresses and fluffing the pillows. Nothing changed out… just an FYI!

Onward we march across the Meseta!

Camino de Santiago Day Sixteen: Hontanas to Itero de la Vega Rebirth

16 04 2018

The Albergue Brigida in Hontanas was like staying in a suite. We woke up slowly in the super comfy bottom bunks and see even warm during the night. When I went to pack my backpack I realized while sitting on the tiled floor that it was heated! Something about that place, we really didn’t want to leave. We thought we would have a mellow Sunday Funday, maybe get to the next town early, have a drink, go to church perhaps. Do laundry. We settled on Itera de la Vega. They said there was a nice place called La Mochilla so Suzy sent her bag there.

Sadly I received a message from Heino that his Camino is over. He was headed to the hospital in Burgos due to tendinitis. This saddens me greatly as he is such a light to have on the journey even when he isn’t physically present. And so often he just pops up to offer a smile. The road is rough and so my toe problems are minuscule in comparison.

That said…. gross information alert but I’m not sugar coating things here people… so this morning there was a Camino miracle. I decided that my toe issue may be related to the nail rubbing although they didn’t really seem connected… so I decided to cut the nail a bit and suddenly my toe erupted and the pressure of the blister was released! Lo and behold my toe had born a new pinky toe underneath! With a little snipping of the large piece of skin (I know I’m sorry it’s so gross) a brand new toe emerged slightly pink but fully healed. I still bandaged it and was curious to see how it would fare.

We headed out and it was a bit drizzly. We got a late start and opted to have breakfast at a cute Albergue where they actually had fried eggs, two, with jamon Serrano…and a coffee for 5,50 Euro. We set out again at about 10 and hit a long windy road. Turns out the sign at the edge of town said we were basically halfway! Midway I stopped to check on my foot as I had another weird feeling on my right foot and wanted to bandage it. Of course this was the moment a pilgrim in army fatigues, a Polish guy from Chicago decided to talk us up. Turns out it was his second day after starting from Burgos so he decided to give me recommendations on how to treat my feet. I was pleasant and said it was cool and I was ok. Then as he walked away he said, “Careful over here it’s easy to trip!” I said thanks in my most pleasant voice but in my head I wanted to scream, “Are you frickin kidding me? Trip? Were you there below Alto de Perdon on the cobbles? Or for the last frickin 249 miles and 16 days? Are you serious?!” But I didn’t. Yes this day was all about just letting things go.

At San Anton there were some gorgeous ruins from a convent and a guy hanging out in his car giving out sellos (stamps) and offering wood figures of the Tau and whatnot for “donativo” a donation. He was putting hatchmarks on his list of pilgrims that had come by.

we walked along and luckily it was mostly just gray only a few showers now and then. We approached the pretty city of Castrojeriz and stopped for a fresh squeezed orange juice at La Manzana. The town wraps around a big hill and is very pretty it would have been nice for a longer stop. It started raining steadily as we neared our steep 12% ascent. We took it slow and I somehow kind of enjoyed it, I seem to prefer the up and down as it hurts my feet less than the long hard flats… this is unfortunately what the Meseta is mostly… at the top of the hill there was a little lean-to where we were able to get some shelter and then after a short time on the plateau it was back down again, now a paved 18% grade.

The next leg was very flat and very dull. We didn’t really see much at all and just walked on and on eager to get to Itero de la Vega two full hours on the flats. We were excited to see the sign for our Albergue on the edge of town next to an old dilapidated building, I joked that maybe that was it… I shouldn’t have joked.

Let’s just say that the town has seen better days. The welcoming committee consisted of a spunky Chihuahua mix zipping down the lane, a stocky black bulldog mix in a filthy green sweater and another less filthy white dog in a sweater. The first two dogs were running the rounds around town while the white dog was tending to his owner and a few others who stared at us as we passed the. At they were smoking in front of. We hobbled over to La Mochila and Suzy’s bag was there but it was a construction site. She is lucky they left it there for her! The workman just looked at us like we were nuts and told us the place was closed for renovations. Panic struck me as I envisioned us having to go back to the Camino and walk the extra km down to the next town which was FAR! I guess our plan to stay one city off the beaten path doesn’t work quite as well on the Meseta where the distances are huge and the towns far apart many without facilities!

We scrambled to look up another Albergue, the “fancy” one that was on the posters on the way into the town, they only had a few. Some Aussies were already there luckily and told us to ring the bell of the supermarket next door (which was closed). The owner came out and showed us a perfectly nice small double room and we had a shared bathroom. It was kind of like grandma’s house part two, about four other rooms in the place. They asked us to come back to the grocery store to pay, we got the second to last two beds in the place!

When we got to the grocer the now husband and wife team told us we needed to pay the 12 Euro for the room and to buy anything we thought we needed as they were only opening the grocery for us. We asked if there was a restaurant in town but they said really only the bar, and they repeated “Es Domingo”, It’s Sunday. So we scrambled around and got some potatoes, cheese, lomo, chorizo, anchovies and some wine, 1,95 Euros a bottle! We paid and one of the Aussies tried to buy something. It the grocery didn’t have any change. The Aussies had asked me to inquire about the Wifi which wasn’t working. Once the husband realized I spoke Spanish it was all over. The Wifi by the way just didn’t work so well the wife said. A very mangy cat came to greet us also…

I was sent to tell the rest of the guests to come and do their shopping ASAP as they were closing soon. We were also told that under no circumstances were we to microwave the potatoes. When we returned we set to snacking and staring our potatoes in the oven. Husband swept in and told us the oven didn’t work. He told me there are only two burners that work to the stove and that one was the better one but never to use it at the same time as the microwave or we would blow a fuse.

Then he told me it’s also important not to use too many lights at the same time… he explained that he and his lady were heading out on a drive and wouldn’t be back til late so we were to be alone. If the fuse blows he said to be sure to turn the circuit breakers back on and showed me where they was, and how to do it. He said to be sure not to lock the outer door, if the power goes off do not touch the pellet stove, he would come back to turn it off, etc. etc. I’d become the new building manager I guess.

Once he headed out we could relax and I met another pilgrim also drinking the 1,95E wine. He said it was probably Rioja. I explained that Rioja always has a strip label on the back, so the small Rioja in the address on the back label just meant it was bottled at a winery in Rioja but from a mix of grapes from elsewhere. We commented that the wine was good. Then he said that Champagne is overrated because it is blended from so many places and grapes.

You cannot just tell me Champagne is overrated and expect me to move off that topic without a discussion. I explained that there are in fact amazing Champagnes from small producers and not blended or single vineyards and how Krug multi vintage is such a great example of the art of blending, the choir versus the soloist analogy. He argued with me a bit and then shut down the conversation saying, “This conversation and topic really don’t interest me at all.” WTH?! So why did you throw out a controversial topic and then just decide that you have no interest in the conversation? Not very polite, a perfect example of someone who just wants to be right and not engage in a discussion but would rather just drop the mic at that point. Very annoying to have wasted any of my relaxation time on that guy. I hope I don’t have to see him again. Luckily he went off to the bar for his meal and left us all to our snacks and nibbles.

The night wore on and next it was the Aussie gentleman, who was a seemingly nice guy but similarly pig headed. His partner was even getting annoyed with him. He discovered I was a wine and spirits professional and decided to tell me that all distilled spirits are just marketing, all ethanol tastes the same, flavorless he said, so it really doesn’t matter what the origin of the spirit is (potato, agave, rye etc.) or where it is made, it’s all just flavored. You have got to be kidding me, I thought! What the hell!? Patience completely gone I finished up my wine and nodded off in my chair while Suzy played a few songs.

I woke up super early to use the bathroom only to find not one shred of toilet paper in the bathroom. Seriously? How do you own a grocery store next door to your Albergue and not stock toilet paper for the guests? Argh! Good grief! It was a town we could have skipped…but the good news is that the baby toe seemed to fair well despite the pain of the day. I’m so grateful. I am so grateful that I didn’t let any of it really get to me. Like rain that falls on you just let it go.

Say hello to my little friend…

Camino de Santiago Day Fifteen: Burgos to Hontanas-Balance

15 04 2018

In a word? Brutal.

We knew today would be hard. We did it to ourselves really. Each afternoon we evaluate our progress, distance covered and how we feel. We aren’t necessarily going by the book. We do have the John Brierly guide which is super helpful to read as it has great tips about the route i.e. difficulty etc. but the stages he suggests aren’t necessarily the way we wanted to break up the trip. For example the first day we opted to only go to Valcarlos to break up that day.

There are also a few maps from the pilgrim office or the bag transfer companies that break up the trip differently and offer up different views of the elevation change. Finally we look at the options for where there is to stay and which cities we think are a good choice and then we look at the weather.

So all these signs told us we should go past Hornillos and onto Hontanas. We knew we were in for about an 18 mile day but the terrain seemed simple and we felt strong. Our friend Helena warned us that it was a bit of a trek and that there is a portion of the route that seems to go on forever along a high plateau and that Hontanas doesn’t seem like it will ever appear until you see the steeple top of the church peer over the ridge on your descent.

We were in good spirits as we’d had a good rest at the “grandma’s house” apartment and after a fancy chocolate latte and some mini croissants and another banana for stamina we set off to leave Burgos. We walked past the ornate grand cathedral and out of town noticing the huge birds nests on top of some chimneys. A dull walk out of town was exacerbated by the numerous cyclists whizzing past us and even cutting us off as we crossed the highway. Must be a popular Saturday pastime and for some reason they do not seem to realize that we cannot hear them until they’re just about to pass us… they’re not inclined to ring a bell or say on the right/left in any language so they’re just something to be aware of. In terms of Camino etiquette during the day two other things irked me… two pilgrims smoking cigarettes while on a long steep narrow incline! At first I thought it was just their clothes that smelled smoky until I realized the smoke was blowing in my face. Just sit on the side and enjoy your smokes if you have to and be sure not to leave the butts around. I’d imagine that in the summer they could also be a fire hazard. Second we ran into a pilgrim on a very long steep descent that had her radio audibly playing music for all to hear. It’s fine to listen to music but I was a little annoyed by the noise when it’s not what I want along my walk. Just use headphones and be respectful.

It was a beautiful day, light puffy white clouds in the sky but for the most part sunny and warm. I was wearing only a tank and light camping shirt. In general my pinky toe had decreased in size again since the night before but was probably larger than the day before that. Stop reading if you’re squeamish but let’s say when I grasped the excess skin it was about the width of two dimes… pulling it away from the toe between my pointer finger and thumb. Along the walk I was struck that balance is so important, any imbalance in your pack or your footing manifests itself in blisters, foot issues, back issues. Just the tiniest thing can set into motion a plethora of issues. This of course is true on the Camino where every experience is magnified, but a lesson to take home. Balance is so vital in all aspects of our lives and if we don’t take care of the core and create a stable foundation we will not only be off kilter but we have put ourselves in jeopardy. I’ve been wanting to explore the chakras or energy centers along this walk and thus first two weeks has been about the root, chakra 1. Finding my footing and my balance. Of course this initial struggle has manifested itself in this issue with my toe. Ali even suggested that the right little toe has to do with masculine energy and holding onto things that I don’t need… seems fitting.

On the way into Tardajos we saw a motorcycle group touring through the small town. About 200 streamed by. We stopped at a small cafe for a little refreshment and then on again to Hornillos. The road began a slow incline but we felt good enough. I was having a bit of pressure on my little toe but it was ok. We stopped at a little place for lunch and had delicious melon with jamon and a little steak with fries, yogurt with honey and a glass of wine for just 9,50 Euros. We saw a few other pilgrims stopped for the day and we headed off on our last 11km for Hontanas thinking we would have a long haul but it wasn’t worth stopping with the great weather.

We had a long slow incline and as we topped a plateau we saw the tips of some windmills and eventually the full windmills came into view as if someone was turning a lever to raise them. We were surprised at how far they seemed and then at how close they seemed to get, how big suddenly, but then we would dip around the corner for a moment and disappear. Then they’d reappear looking even farther away. I wonder if experiences like these were what inspired authors like Jorge Luis Borges and Dali as it felt as if I was walking through a surreal landscape. We were entering the Meseta where many say the beginnings of the Camino transformation occurs as there is less to see and you are really just walking.

The Shark Cloud

The clouds we’d seen at the slope that looked like a shark and other creatures were now so close above us it felt as if you could reach up and grab one. I wanted to… I’d pull it down and use it as a pillow in a green field. I was in tons of pain all through my body, my feet throbbing. I was close to tears at times for no reason. Then angry at myself because my suffering is so minor compared to so many and I opted to do this of my own volition.

I found Suzy in a similar mindset of utter exhaustion. We’d also almost exhausted our water. Even in the slightly overcast moments there is no shade no trees zero shelter up there on that endless plateau. I wondered if a car were to offer us a ride if I would take it, but no car ever came… one did drive behind us a few meters in the other direction the only one we saw for 10km. We kept waiting for the peak of the steeple and finally came across a small Albergue San Bol which looked empty and is not a town just one building and to our dismay saw that we were still 5km away from Hontanas. Ugh!! It was truly awful.

Somewhere in the midst of this we heard bells, at first I thought I was hallucinating but they kept ringing for about ten or fifteen minutes they went on. It was somewhat comforting knowing a church must be ahead but we still didn’t see it.

Just when we were almost at the end of our ropes out of no where a bike zipped up, not one to zip past us but a pilgrim from the U.K. “Hello ladies are you ok?” I think I mustered up an “I think so”. Suzy eyed his fresh bottle of water on his saddlebags and asked him to spare some, he gladly gave her the full bottle and then offered us some melty nutty chocolate which was so great. Yes I know you shouldn’t accept candy from strangers but this was no stranger it was a gift sent to us. Timmy was his name and he’d been cycling from the U.K. all along the way.

Our spirits lifted somewhat we kept on and very soon the steeple showed around the bend and luckily our Albergue Santa Brigida was right there. Some of our German friends were already drinking beer as we hobbled up. The place is awesome. Such an oasis after such a crazy walk. The rooms are so spacious very clean tons of bathrooms with great rain shower heads, lots of privacy.

We had the pilgrim menu which was a huge green salad and paella for the group, a fun and convivial dinner which ended with some songs by Suzy and yours truly. The best was when each nationality cheered us to do another song the way they do in their country, “Otras, otras!” I didn’t quite catch the spelling but we had Germans, Danish, Koreans, Italians and more in the mix. Sleep came easy in the comfy room with only four in ours… us and Timmy and Joel from Seattle. Such a great ending to a very tough day. 20.1 miles, an exact tie for our last biggest day.

Note: phone service and internet is very limited in this area.