Right now, that header sounds about as realistic as landing on the moon, but taking it step by step, I hope to change that!
Right now, that header sounds about as realistic as landing on the moon, but taking it step by step, I hope to change that!
500 miles walked from east to west across Spain to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre! 36 walking days, 3 rest days.
Day 36: Rob arrived the night before in Santiago at 11:30pm and took a taxi directly to the cool cave-like bar where I was hanging out with other Pilgrims.
The poor guy had had a 24 hour travel day flying from his sister’s in San Diego to San Francisco to Madrid to Barcelona to Santiago. He was more exhausted than us Pilgrims! So Day 36 was a rest day for both of us. We each got a room in a Monastery hostel right next to the main square where I had finished the French Way (St. James) Camino the day before.
The day before was rainy off and on but this day was sunny and beautiful, so I took Rob to the square where the Pilgrims arrive after their long trek and he got to meet some of the Pilgrims he had read about in the blog!
And as luck would have it, one of our Skyline College teaching colleagues Serena Chu-Mraz was arriving that same day with her husband Chris! They were doing the last part of the Camino and would also be getting a Compostela for completing the last 100 kilometers (60 plus miles). It was so fun giving advice to new Pilgrims who were about to walk the same road I just did. They had planned to start in the traditional last week starting place in Sarria, but since they had the time, I talked them into backing it up 40 kilometers (25 miles) to start in the gorgeous mountain town of O Cebreiro which they ended up doing.
We hung out with them sampling all the amazing seafood the Galician region was famous for.
It was really fun hanging out with them and they both spoke Spanish! A bonus for some of my new non-English speaking Pilgrim friends and less translating work for me! Hanging out with friends from home along with my new friends from the Camino was a lovely closing to the Santiago chapter of the pilgrimage. Next, Rob and I would be setting out alone to walk from Santiago to the ocean’s edge in Finisterre. It was less common to carry on after Santiago, so I figured this would be a much more solitary trek, but I was walking it with one of my favorite people on the planet who I would literally walk to the ends of the earth for, so it seemed very appropriate. 🙂
Day 37: RAIN. Lots of lots of rain. I had seen a few days of light rain in my month-plus long trek, but of course, the deluge happened on Rob’s Day 1 of walking!! It was a wet trial by fire for poor Rob but we “weathered” it with smiles.
It started out with a quiet walk along a beautiful river with a light rain.
Now it was time for Rob to relax post-finals, stop and smell the roses, and enjoy the peaceful countryside.
But then the lovely light drizzle, turned into real rain. Pouring, relentless rain. Our light rain gear was quickly failing. Rob said he could feel water running down his back and my arms and shoulders were soaked. We walked through a few tiny villages that were just a collection of houses with no stores or restaurants or even covered shelters where we could get out of the downpour. Finally, we saw signs for a bar-restaurant and sought shelter and much needed libations!
After taking off our wet rain gear, the second thing I did was to inspect Rob’s feet! I didn’t want him to have any foot issues or blisters to ruin his walk, so I inspected his feet (recall there is no foot-revulsion on the Camino!). I pushed and prodded all over his feet and toes and asked if there were any sore spots. He said one toe was bothering him, so I took out my foot first aid kit (this turned out to be one of the most important and most used things in my pack) and wrapped the toe in question in a band-aid and then wrapped it in a second another layer in stretchy breathable kinesiology tape.
We waited for 2 hours but the rain just seemed to be coming down harder! More soggy Pilgrims came in and all checked into the albergue connected to the bar-restaurant we were sitting in, but if we wanted to make it to the ocean in the time before our flight to the Canary Islands, we had no choice but to soldier on. We wistfully watched some Pilgrims hopping in a taxi, but after some warm food and a couple of beers, we put back on our soggy rain gear and headed out into the storm to walk another several hours to the village of Vilaserio. It was so windy, rainy and ridiculous that we pretty much just laughed our whole way through it.
Finally, we arrived at our albergue Casa Vella! We were saved!
The owner of the place greeted us and she was so nice. The albergue was her family home she had grown up in and there was a lovely warm fire crackling in the hearth with wet Pilgrim shoes lined around the edge so I added my soggy Tevas.
We only had 3 days and 2 nights for Rob and my mini-Camino to Finisterre, and I was determined that he have the albergue bunk bed experience, but when our host asked if we wanted to be in the 10-bed dormitory downstairs or the empty room upstairs that included two beds that were not bunk beds, I chose the latter and had no regrets!
That night, Rob got to have the communal Pilgrim dinner experience which for me is one of the highlights of albergue-living! We had a lovely dinner with 3 Germans, a woman from Switzerland, and a woman from Texas. Everyone spoke English with enough fluency that we had a dinner filled with jokes and lots of laughs as we all shared the different funny Camino and albergue experiences we had had along the way. Santiago is the end point of several other Caminos, so some of these Pilgrims had come from different routes, so it was really cool to hear about their experiences on some of the lesser traveled ways, and I knew I would also be looking into doing some of these other Caminos in my future.
Day 38: After the rough weather the day before, we walked out into a lovely sunny day the next morning. Some grey clouds remained along the way so the potential of rain still loomed, but things were looking great and we enjoyed every dry moment of the walk with the birds singing and the sun shining.
An hour or so down the road, we caught up with Regina from Germany, one of our albergue companions from the night before and we walked and chatted for a few hours.
We walked into one village and were greeted by a doggie-kitty welcome crew. It seemed everyone put their differences aside and got along on the Camino.
The day continued to be stunning and I was so happy that Rob was able to experience it.
As we walked, we could see the effects of the intense storm from the day before.
As we started gaining some elevation and climbing some steeper hills, Regina said goodbye as she stopped to rest and Rob and I carried on. Rob was doing great on his second day and was going at my same pace. He was jumping into Pilgrim-life very well.
Further down the road, we came across a sheep herder who was moving his flock towards us. Just another taste of slow-paced pastoral life on the Camino.
As we carried on with our walk that day, we experienced some moments of very light showers but overall the day was beautiful and Rob and I largely had the Camino to ourselves, so I did something I hadn’t done my entire walk: I played music on my phone speakers (no headphones), so we had a lovely soundtrack for much of our walk that day.
At the end of our walk day (we covered 27 kilometers or about 17 miles), we arrived in the small village of Hospital which had one albergue. We were one of the last Pilgrims to arrive that day and the owner, who didn’t speak any English, asked me: “Tenemos una habitación con una litera y un baño privado o tenemos una habitación compartida con baño compartido. ¿Cual preferirías?” Without consulting Rob, I quickly responded “el dormitorio” hoping that he was not understanding the exchange. He didn’t ask any questions until we arrived in our dormitory room with 3 bunk beds and there were two guys taking naps snoring loudly, and the room was warm and smelled like feet. Then he turned to me and asked, “Did that woman say there was a private room, but you chose this one???” Busted!! :). I wanted Rob to have the FULL albergue experience! He was less than pleased with me, but he sucked it up like a good Pilgrim and I was loving every minute of it! Welcome to the Camino Rob!!
After a few hours, it was time for communal Pilgrim’s dinner. I had had a cold and then after that day walking in the torrential rains, I had completely lost my voice! I could speak in a harsh forced whisper so soldiered on and chatted with the Pilgrims next to us. They were from all over: Italy, the Netherlands, but luckily they all spoke English which was a little easier on my tired vocal chords and brain. I felt fine but sounded like Marge Simpson after chain smoking 5 packs of cigarettes! :).
We ended the night hanging out with some of the locals in the one bar in town and getting ready for our last day of walking the next day. It was all ending too soon (I know that sounds weird after over a month of walking), but I wasn’t ready for it all to be over, and it was so fun to experience this with Rob who always makes everything fun.
Day 39: The last day of the Camino. What a bittersweet day!!!! Today was the day we would reach the water and what the Spaniards at one time thought was the edge of the world. We reached the lovely town of Cee which sat on an inlet and it was my first sort of glimpse of the ocean. It was more bay than ocean but we were getting close.
But our view of the water was brief as we cut back inland toward Finesterre.
Then, just as we were about 10 minutes from reaching our first views of the ocean proper, coming towards us were two Pilgrims I had run into quite a few times along the way. Mateo from Italy and Daniel from Germany:
We said our goodbyes, and then Rob and I could see something on the horizon…
I’m a California native and have lived in coastal cities my entire life and even though I had just walked across a land not my own, it felt like a home coming.
The smell of salty air was intoxicating and carried with it all the memories of my childhood growing up in the southern coastal town of Ventura and now it mingled with my new memories of the Camino and what I was about to accomplish.
However, we were not quite there yet! We could see the peninsula we still needed to walk to the end of to arrive at the lighthouse in Finisterre, the kilometer zero marker of the walk. I had about one more hour to savor the last of the walk, and we were in no rush.
We stopped for a coffee and to drink in the salt air and ocean view. From the top of the Pyrenees and across many others peaks and valleys and then down to ocean level, I had traversed many ups and downs to get there.
We carried on, walking at a leisurely pace and even as I write this, I find myself slowing down and not wanting yet to arrive.
We walked along a quiet and peaceful promenade that ran parallel to the beach.
Then we came across a sign for the Finisterre lighthouse (faro in Spanish and it’s called Fisterra in Galegan, the local dialect of the region) and it marked the last mile of my 500 mile walk.
Just as we started the slow uphill climb, I heard some honking and looked over and there were Doug and Shelly! The Pilgrims I met on Day 1 and ran into repeatedly at different times along the Camino!
Incredible Camino timing!!! We gave each other big hugs, chatted a bit and then they told us to enjoy our last bit of the Camino and we all said goodbye. Then as we continued walking, I looked ahead, and there was a Pilgrim walking towards me. It was Emma from England, the lovely woman I had met during my first week of the Camino, and we had made that earlier dinner with the other female travelers! The Camino was providing again and in my last part of it, I was getting the incredible opportunity to see some of my favorite Camino friends again!
Emma’s husband had just flown in from England to celebrate her accomplishment with her. We gave each other hugs and planned to get a drink together up at the end by the lighthouse.
Rob and I carried on. And then we arrived!
When I had arrived in Santiago, I felt very happy and overjoyed to be there, but I didn’t get emotional. However, arriving in Finisterre, the true end of my Camino, was different and Rob hugged me as I cried happy tears.
It was all very overwhelming. The place was swarming with tourists, many of whom had clearly just hopped in their cars to visit the famous site for a day trip, but you could see the Pilgrims sprinkled throughout the crowds. They were unmistakable in their quick-dry clothing, battered shoes and full packs. As I walked out onto the furthest promontory, those who had walked it were marked by a quietness as they sat looking out at the ocean.
I walked past an older woman sitting up on top of a rock, and she asked me if I had just walked it. I told her yes and she asked my starting point. I told her St. Jean in France and she told me she had done the same. She told me that she had walked up the Pyrenees one of the days it snowed, and she had experienced hypothermia and was sick and shivering in a bunk bed for days afterwards. She said she had thought her Camino would end there, but a bunch of Pilgrims gave her their blankets, and she recovered. As she walked on, she said had experienced a lot of pain and foot problems along the way, but she had persevered. I congratulated her and told her I was very happy she had made it and that she had a lot to be proud of. She said, “Rachel congratulations to you and so do you.” We gave each other smiles that spoke quietly of our shared experience and I left her to enjoy the satisfaction of her accomplishment.
I took off my pack and laid out the gear that were all like old friends and a reminder of what had helped get me there.
We left the promontory to head back to the zero kilometer marker, and we had to wait in line with a funny mixture of Pilgrims and tourists in order to get a picture with the landmark.
Then it was my turn. I had reached the zero kilometer marker and had the calloused, peeling, tattered Pilgrim’s feet to prove it!
Emma was there too and we got pictures together!
Afterwards, Emma, her husband Stewart, Rob and I all got drinks, and we told them we were taking a bus back to Santiago that afternoon, and then catching a flight to the Canary Islands the next morning. Emma said that they had hired a car and were driving up to Muxia, the other famous Camino end point on the water that we didn’t have the extra day to walk to but really wanted to(!). She asked if we wanted to ride there with them and then back to Santiago. The Camino was over and yet it was still providing! We happily accepted and what incredible luck. Muxia was much more scenic and beautiful, and I’m so grateful we got to experience it as well. What an unexpected bonus on our last day!! The landscape and the clouds were surreal.
What an incredible gift that Emma and Stewart gave us! We got back in the car and returned to Santiago. We gave them big hugs and said goodbye. We headed back to the same Monastery we had stayed in before in Santiago and retrieved the suitcase Rob had left there, and I got out some of my things he had brought me which included toe nail polish! The first thing I did upon returning to my room, was to thank my feet by buffing off the calluses and peeling skin and giving myself a pedicure. It was official, with these painted feet, I was no longer a Pilgrim.
Endings can be both sad and beautiful and that is how this last day felt. I was sad it was over but I was also relieved to have some time off from the physical grind of walking 6-7 hours every day. Luckily, it still wasn’t time to go back to the real world as Rob and I had 5 days booked at an Air BnB with a pool and a 5-minute walk to the beach on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, and then 3 days in Barcelona where we were meeting up with our friend Suzanne. Also, my Pilgrim friend Gustavo happened to live on the island we had booked, so we had a fun tour guide awaiting us.
The Camino provided so much in so many ways that I’m still processing it all, but here are some quick reflections on what the Camino meant to me and how I think it might have changed me:
>I feel like I am better now at slowing down and quieting my impatience that can needlessly cause me daily aggravation and stress.
>I’m a walker now. I plan to incorporate walking into my life every day, even days when I’m tired or don’t think I have time. I want to head into my next decades healthy, strong, and getting there on my own two feet. I will also continue to seek out and walk more Caminos. I have not seen the last of a bunk bed or a blister!
>Spain is part of me. It transformed me in my mid 20s and it did it again in my late 40s. A Spanish woman told me, “Raquel, tienes el alma y el corazón de una española (Rachel, you have the soul and heart of a Spaniard). It was a beautiful compliment. Spaniards live in the streets (not shut up in their homes), they hang out in large groups of friends and extended family, they are loud at times all talking at once, they like to party, and they have many festivals and holidays throughout the year to do all these things together. I love my country, my state, and my city, and I also love Spain and speaking the beautiful language of Spanish. The day after I returned to SF, I enrolled in two intermediate-level Spanish classes at SF City College: one that will focus on grammar and writing and one on conversation. So come fall, the Camino has also made me a student again!
>I know now that I need to unplug way more and get out in nature. Less TV, less movies, less Facebook, even less music when I walk. And more nature. SF is a beautiful and lively city but I don’t think humans were meant to be surrounded by so much concrete all the time. Walking out in nature with no cars and no buildings is like drinking in a cure when I didn’t know I was sick.
>Don’t sweat the small stuff. Seriously, excuse my language but let that shit go!
>Do not underestimate the power of the mind and human will. I saw repeated lessons of this on the Camino. I saw all kinds of people walking the Camino: old, young, overweight, injured. I met many who were overcoming serious physical injuries and they walked on. I met some who said they were not at all in shape and they walked on. The notion that you can do anything you set your mind to is real. It is powerful. Believe it.
>The Camino is a repeated lesson of the importance of people, community and the value of being kind to each other. People matter, stuff doesn’t. I want to move forward with the guiding philosophy that love should always win and lead all choices and decisions, big and small. When in doubt, I will try to always err on the side of kindness and compassion.
>Oh and travel. I was a traveler before but I have only just scratched the surface. I want to travel more and for longer periods of time and I sure am not afraid of a little rough travel now. The world is a big place and a plan to see a lot more of it!
Speaking of travel, here are some pictures from our post-Camino vacation in the Canary Islands and Barcelona. Such fun times with great people. I can’t wait for the next adventure!
And on my last day in Barcelona, I got to meet up with my Barcelona Camino friend Manuel and meet his lovely wife. A perfect conclusion to an amazing trip.
And then back on home to my crazy, frenetic, vibrant city…I was one small changed fish returning to her big bustling pond:
I made it to Santiago, the official end of the Camino! 455 miles walked, 45 miles to go to the ocean!
Day 33: I had planned on staying in albergues for the rest of the walk, but the last one I stayed in had some new additions to the Camino who were not as respectful as the people I had experienced so far. In the shared dormitory room of 20, there were a group of six guys in their 60s from Scotland who came in late, were really drunk and were turning the light on and off. So in the next town, Castañeda, I stayed in a lovely rural hostel with a private room and a bath.
This little town was not one of the stages in the popular Pilgrims guide, so I knew it would be less crowded. As I walked out of that town that morning, I didn’t see anyone else on the road for a while.
But nature was still keeping an eye on me 🙂
I only had that day and the next before I reached the official end of the Camino in Santiago de Compostela. I wanted to soak everything in and enjoy every step.
Day 34: Rain! We had had three really hot consecutive days that reached into the 90s, and then there was a big weather shift, and it was raining as I started my walk that morning. But not hard rain. It was misty and actually quite pleasant and it was nice to dig my jacket back out of my pack.
As I walked, I dug an apple out of my pack and made a new friend.
I did a long walk day that day so I could be sure to be in Santiago on June 4th to meet Rob.
I arrived around 5pm in Pedrouzo Arca. This was the last stage before Santiago. Before I had wanted to escape the crowds, but here I wanted to celebrate with other Pilgrims with one walking day left before the majority of them finished and went back to their various countries. So after showering and doing some laundry, I closed out the day laughing, drinking and eating with a fun and rowdy group of Pilgrims.
Day 35: June 4th, my arrival day for Santiago where the Camino de Santiago officially ends. I left late that day and walked without any hurry. The weather forecast said lots of rain, so I geared up in boot covers and rain jackets, but I ended up stripping it all back off pretty quickly. The ground was wet but the weather was perfect.
The walk was beautiful and bittersweet.
As Santiago got closer, there was definitely excitement in the air.
I reached the outskirts of town, but the Cathedral that holds the remains of Saint Santiago was still a 40 minute walk away, but I was getting close!
As I made my way through town, the clouds were looking a little ominous and it was raining off and on.
I arrived in the historic city center and saw the archway into the plaza the great Cathedral of Santiago sits on. The end of the Camino.
I had made it. Through blisters and rain and sleepless nights and meeting so many amazing people along the way, I had actually done it. 35 days on the Camino with only 2 rest days due to blisters. I was pretty darn happy.
There were lots of other Pilgrims the square who I knew and had walked with and we smiled and hugged. And then the evening ended even better with the arrival of my bestie, Rob!!
He gets one rest day and then tomorrow we hit the road and walk until our feet are in the ocean 🙂
408 miles walked, 92 miles remaining!
Day 29: I walked with the wolf pack today. Or at least that’s what we jokingly called ourselves. My friend Roxanne, who loves doing Caminos, sent an email out to her entire college, American River College in Sacramento, saying she was doing an 11-day part of this Camino after finals and said to contact her if interested. She now has 18 people here with her: 12 teachers, 2 partners of teachers, 2 of her friends (one who flew in from England and another who came from Tasmania), and 2 staff members who will meet them in Santiago and then walk to Finisterre. I can barely manage myself on the Camino! Since there were so many, they couldn’t all find rooms in the small mountain top town of O Cebreiro, so some stayed in the town below. So in the morning, half the group set out from O Cebreiro, and we would meet the others in the town of Triacastelo later that evening.
It was my first time, in almost a month on the Camino, walking in a group. And what a fun group. First of all, a bunch of them were community college teachers, so it was the first time since my sabbatical started in mid December that I heard words like curriculum committee, student learning outcomes, banking units, AB705, student demographics. It was so funny talking teacher talk on the Camino. It felt like a world away and yet also so familiar.
I had looked at the elevation profile of the section of the Camino we were walking that day since my last two days had ended with monster hills. What goes up must come down right? Well, not that day. I thought we were on top of the mountain and yet, up we marched as we left town.
These poor guys had done a 12-hour walk the day before (with the 2 monster hills I mentioned), and yet they walked fast and kept up an impressive pace all day. Eventually we went down some hills only to soon be going right back up. It was up and down a lot of the day.
As we walked, I got to meet a new set of awesome and inspiring people. Amanda, a fellow English teacher, was walking with an injured knee in a brace and a pacemaker. Tressa, a Political Science teacher, started running marathons in her late 30s and had since completed 11 of them. Each person I got to chat with throughout the day was friendly, engaging, and jumping right into the Camino with smiles and a positive attitude. I don’t know if I would have been able to do the same with the brutal day 2 they had.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but this also meant hotter weather. It was now almost June and things were definitely heating up, but we still had the beautiful greenery and flowers of spring. And cows. Lots of cows 🙂
We stopped in different churches and shops to get more Camino stamps in our Pilgrim’s passports and we enjoyed the day.
As we neared the end of the day’s walk, Roxanne said, “There’s my tree!” Camino friends come in all shapes and sizes.
As we ended our walk day, we celebrated by tending to the needs of our thirsty wolf pack.
Day 30: Many new Pilgrims join in the last 100 kilometers of the Camino Francés as this in the minimum you can walk and still get the Compostela certificate. Since Roxanne was traveling with a large group, and they were joining at a more popular time and location, they had pre-booked their lodgings which meant private rooms rather than dormitory-style albergues. I, however, wanted to experience as much of the Pilgrim community as possible as time seemed to be speeding up and I was feeling quite sad this would all soon be over. I decided to stay in albergues for the rest of the walk. This also meant getting up a lot earlier. On this day, I was in a lovely albergue in Triacastelo that had wooden floors and beams and stone walls.
Albergues have their beauty and their challenges. The guy in the bunk below me got up at 5:30am and was shaking the bunk (and me) as he packed up his bag. By 6am, I decided if you can’t beat em, join em, so I got up and packed as well. Roxanne and her group were all meeting at a restaurant in town at 7 a.m. for breakfast. I got to the restaurant around 6:30 and was finishing my breakfast as some of them started rolling in. I waited for a little while, but it looked like it was going to take a bit for everyone to assemble, so I broke off from the pack and went lone wolf down the Camino. We were all staying in the same cities from there to Santiago, so I could easily find them each evening. It was a cold and crisp morning, quite the contrast to the day before, and the first hour was pretty shaded.
I came across one of the teachers and her husband who had also headed out before the group, and she was taking pictures of this crazy looking dark black slug with interesting ridges on its bottom half. So I snapped one too.
I walked a little further and saw a woman around my age walking with a guy who looked about 18. I was really interested in families who do the Camino together, so as I came alongside them, I said hello and this is how I met Lauren, a South African who had moved to Canada, and her son Luca who grew up in Vancouver. She was a former teacher who now worked on campus in instructional design, and Luca just finished his first year of college in Toronto and was studying to become a commercial photographer. We all walked and talked for several pleasurable hours.
It turned out they had started the Camino the same day I had back in St. John, France on May 1st. As we talked about our Camino experiences, it turned out we had met a lot of the same people. They also knew Claude from Canada who was traveling with Michelle from France. And Harry from Belgium who I had walked with for several days with Tracy. Harry had helped Lauren with a blister she had on her heel and he had used a sterilized needle and popped it for her. Only would you have this kind of criss-crossing and foot-related intimacy on the Camino :). As we walked, I also tried to capture the always beautiful surroundings.
Soon we came upon an area that someone had turned into a rest place for Pilgrims. There was a table full of bananas, cookies, crackers, boiled eggs, and other snacks that you could take and leave a donation if you liked. There were lots of messages painted on slates of rock and a collage of scallop shells in the shape of a heart.
I had a banana and a cookie and we walked on. As we did, we saw another marker for a Pilgrim who had died on the Camino, and I told them about the two men I had heard about who had heart attacks since we had all started walking in May. And they shared a really sad and traumatic experience. They were walking along the Camino one day, and up ahead of them, a man collapsed across the trail. The nearby Pilgrims tried to revive him and give him CPR, and for a moment he drew a large breath, but then he died. They said his 20 year old son was standing there with him completely distraught. An ambulance and helicopter came, but he was already gone. A very sobering reminder of how quickly life can be taken away.
At the next town, they stopped for food and I decided to push on to Sarria, my destination city for the day. I walked by myself for a while and in the last hour, a tired young Pilgrim came up behind me and I met Margherita from Italy who had just finished her 2nd year of university. Margarita had studied English at University and her accent was so cute as most of her words in English ended in an A or O sound making them sound very Italian. When we arrived at Sarria, we found an albergue and checked in. We were both thirsty (the days had really started heating up) and starving, so we dropped our bags and went to the nearest restaurant.
And this is where we met a wonderful, crazy, force of nature call Yvette. Yvette was originally born in Holland, but now lived in Nova Scotia Canada. Her accent was Dutch, but her English was fast and fluent and she was hilarious. She and I got along immediately. Gustavo I had just texted me, so I told him where we were at and he also joined us. Again we had intersections of languages, but no language in common. Gustavo and Margherita already knew each other from earlier in the Camino, and when he spoke Spanish, she could sort of understand since it was similar to Italian, but she only spoke English and Italian. Yvette spoke Dutch, German, and English, but no Spanish or Italian. And Yvette and I were laughing and talking in fast slang, so at times no one could understand us :). And yet the four of us were getting along really well and were having a lot of fun and laughing a lot.
Day 31: The next morning we all decided to walk together. As we started walking, we got a picture to remember what town we had stayed in.
The day before had been the hottest day so far, and as we left at 7:30 a.m, it was already heating up. It was clear it was going to be a hot hot day once the sun was fully up.
Many people had warned us that things really change when you get to Sarria because you’ll see a lot more people on the Camino, many who had just joined, and many who had just come to walk for a day or two. We saw this right away when we reached a table that has snacks and refreshments for Pilgrims (where you can take what you like and donate what you like), and at the stamping station, where you can put a stamp in your Pilgrim’s passport, and there was an actual line!
Luckily, as we kept walking the crowds thinned out as everyone settled into their own walking pace. But you could always see Pilgrims ahead and behind, and we even saw a group of thirty teenaged year old girls on a field trip walking in a large group with small backpacks held by thin strings. They definitely didn’t have the blistered, calloused, torn-up feet the rest of us Pilgrims had :). Regardless of numbers, the day was still completely enjoyable and beautiful.
We even came across a bagpiper as the instrument is also native to the Galicia region in Spain we were walking through.
During the walk, we reached the Camino marker dictating the final 100 kilometers of the Camino! We started with 800 kilometers and had 100 remaining. So crazy I had crossed all that on foot!!!
Overall, it was an 8 hour walk day with a couple of rest stops for drinks and lunch, but the last two hours of it were pretty brutal because it was 90 degrees with no shade. But the payoff was great because we arrived at the beautiful town of Portomarin which had a huge beautiful lake.
We ended the day by gathering a bunch of yummy snacks and drinks, and having our dinner on a park bench with a beautiful lake view.
Day 32: I started walking on May 1st, 2019, and now my 32nd day of walking meant I had walked an entire month, and it was now June 1st. Unbelievable but the strange part was, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Or at least that’s what I thought until I walked out of the albergue that morning around 8am and it was already so hot that I started the day in short sleeves for the first time. I had 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to walk that day and I sure hoped there was some shade. Some pictures from the day.
Luckily there were a couple places along the Camino that day where there were ice cold baths we could put our tired, swelling feet in.
Even though the last few days had been very warm, physically I was feeling great. I hadn’t had a single foot problem since the blisters healed from the earlier flip flop fiasco, my muscles were a little sore at the end of these 7-8 hour walk days, but after a little rest, they recovered quickly. Now I had only three days remaining before I arrive in Santiago to meet my best friend Rob who will have just flown in from San Francisco. He and I will be walking an additional 3 days to the ocean, and I sure hope his feet are ready :). See you soon Rob!!
355 miles walked, 145 miles to go!
Day 26: The day before, by coincidence, Tracy and Harry had both arrived at the same town and chose to stay in the same albergue, so we had dinner together.
After dinner, I went for my massage, and it was in a very professional looking spa. This place felt more like a resort than an albergue, but at albergue prices, $15 for a bunk in a room with 8 beds and $55 for an hour massage.
I thought after 25 days, I’d have a lot of tender and sore muscles, especially my troublesome hips, but to my surprise, there were no tender spots. Unbelievable. My body really had adapted and even my feet felt great with no painful areas at all. I watched the sunset feeling relaxed and happy.
I slept well that night and in the morning, I had breakfast with Tracy and Harry and we started out walking together.
The Camino started along the road and then turned onto a very rural path that had us walking on large sections of slabs of rock and a couple times we thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn.
But we found our occasional yellow arrows to reassure us, and the quiet and remote path was serene and beautiful.
We walked just the three of us for about an hour when we heard another Pilgrim coming up quickly behind us. When he reached us it turned out it was Kiko from Isreal! I had walked with him out of the city of León four days before, and Tracy had met him back when she had first started walking the Camino. We all walked together for a bit, but my and Kiko’s pace was a little faster, so soon Kiko and I carried on ahead together for the next 3 hours. We walked through the beautiful village of Molinaseca.
As we left the village, Kiko was very excited to come across a grove of cherry trees! They were so sweet picked right off the branch and Kiko filled his pockets with them.
As we carried on, he told me he was happy to have a much lighter backpack on this trip, because before he had trekked through South America and had a backpack that was double the weight. He said he brought way too many things because of his experience in the military. It was hard to imagine this soft-spoken gentle soul in the Israeli military in a region that had a lot of intense and on-going conflict. I knew the military was compulsory in his country, so I asked him about it. He said at 18 years old every male is required to serve a little over 3 years in the military, and women were required to serve two years. I asked if this made young people angry to have to give up those years and put themselves at such risk, and he said no, because everyone had to do it so it was normal, and also the alternative was jail. In the United States during the Vietnam War when they employed the draft and required young men to enlist to fight in the war, there had been a lot of protests and the public burning of draft cards. I didn’t think the widespread requirement of all men and women to serve multiple years in the U. S. military would go over so well.
We walked and chatted, and also had times of companionable quiet, and it was a relaxing day. When we reached the large city of Ponferrada, he said he was going to stay in the municipal albergue, but they wouldn’t be letting Pilgrims in for another hour, so as we crossed a bridge over a beautiful flowing river, he gave me a hug goodbye to go read on the grass next to the river. I told him to enjoy his day and walked on into the big city!
I had lunch there and then pushed on another couple of hours to the small town of Componaraya.
I was settling into my new room with 2 bunks and 4 beds, and in came Gustavo, a Spaniard and chef from the Canary Islands who spoke no English and was absolutely hilarious. I had planned to write this blog upon arrival but instead, he and I laughed and talked for hours. We both had a silly sense of humor, but also talked about what we were learning about ourselves on the Camino and what changes we wanted to bring back to our lives back home. It’s funny, on the Camino, you often skip small talk and go to the real stuff. After a while, he called home and I went downstairs, and there was Tracy! We’d made no plans as is often the Camino way (everyone goes at his/her own pace and stops where he/she likes) and here we were together again! There are multiple cities a Pilgrim can stop in along the Camino and multiple albergues, hostels and hotels in each city, so clearly the Camino knew we enjoyed each other’s company.
We ordered a bottle of wine and got to chatting and soon Gustavo came down to join, so I played translator to bridge the communication gap and we were all soon laughing and being silly.
Day 27: I got up at 6:30am, brushed my teeth, shoved everything in my backpack as quietly as I could by the light coming in from the window (good shared-room albergue etiquette), and headed downstairs to get coffee and breakfast before hitting the road. I walked into the restaurant that was attached to the albergue and there was Tracy with her leg wrapped with a bag of ice on it. She said that when she arrived the day before, her leg was bothering her but that morning she tried to walk on it, but it hurt so badly, she had to turn around. She suspected she had shin splints at best or a stress fracture at worse. Luckily she had given herself time to do the walk, so she could take the time out to go to the doctor and recuperate, maybe even going to a nicer hotel or different city to rest, but she said that as soon as she could, she’d be right back to this same city so she could finish her Camino. I told her I’d be checking in on her and gave her a big hug goodbye. The sun was rising as I left the city.
As I headed out, I only saw one other Pilgrim, a young guy in his 20s walking out of the city, and he was walking at a blistering speed, literally. At the end of that day, 6 hours later, I passed him and he was limping. But as I walked out of the city, I was really enjoying some solitary time and for the majority of the day, I walked happily by myself. Just me and my shadow.
As I walked, I thought about a question Kiko had asked me the day before: “Who is someone you’ve met here that you hope to see again on the Camino?” My honest answer was no one, and yet at the same time, any one of them. Everyone I met had been truly amazing and I’d enjoyed my time immensely with each person, and I’d love to meet up and spend more time with any one of them, but on the Camino, I didn’t feel in a state of “want” or “need.” I wasn’t holding tightly to anything and really was just enjoying whatever the Camino brought me each day. And on this day, the Camino was bringing some breathtaking scenery in wine country.
A few hours more and the Camino spilt in two directions again. There was a shorter route along the road or I could take the longer scenic route along the hilly back roads. My feet and I felt great, so we went right. For the next few hours I only saw two other Pilgrims. It was solitary and gorgeous.
I came to the beautiful town of Villafranca tucked in a valley surrounded by mountains. I wasn’t tired or hungry, so I snapped a few pics and kept on moving.
As I left the beautiful town, the Camino split in two directions again. To the left, you could go the flat straight route along the road (these other routes are often for those doing the Camino on bicycles). The other route added 5.5 miles and was all uphill. I had looked at the map the night before and had already made my choice. I had booked in a remote albergue on the top of the mountain in the tiny town of Pradela. I started climbing. I hadn’t seen steepness like this since the first day climbing the Pyrenees. Soon the town I had just walked through was down below me.
All day had been pretty warm with very little tree cover. That morning I had woken up with a snuffy nose and sore throat, and I was pretty sure I had a low grade fever. I wasn’t alone in this. When Gustavo had arrived at the albergue the day before, he said he felt terrible. He had a fever for the past few days and a cold. Tracy also had such a bad cold earlier in the Camino that she’d had to get her own room for a week because she was coughing all night, and she didn’t want to torture other Pilgrims. Harry also said he had the beginnings of a sore throat. With all this communal living, any bug could be passed easily and quickly along the Camino and now I suspected I had a version of it. However as I started to climb, I was sweating, but I felt like the fever had gone and my sinuses were clear. I hadn’t taken any breaks that day, only once to strip off my layers of clothing down to shirt sleeves, but somehow I was feeling better than when I started that morning even though it was hotter and the climb more strenuous. The climb was two hours with the majority of it going up up up.
I came across an older woman with short white hair who was walking slowly and looking pretty unhappy. I was walking and eating from a bag of mixed nuts, and she said in accented English “Oh yes please, can I have some? I need salt.” I gave her a big handful which she quickly ate and then I gave her another bigger handful, and she thanked me and I moved on. The views from up high we’re beautiful.
With about 45 minutes left before I reached the top, I came across another man who was dripping sweat but he gave me a big smile when I came alongside him. And this is how I met Christian from Germany. He and I started chatting and telling each other about where we were from and what day we started the Camino, but in typical Camino fashion, we shifted quickly out of small talk, and started talking about what motivated us to come to the Camino. Christian told me that he had worked in insurance, and that work had pretty much taken up his adult life. He said he worked seven days a week because even when he had the weekends off, he was always thinking about work. His wife would often ask him, “Where are you right now?” and he said he would get angry and say “I’m here of course,” but he said she was right, his mind was elsewhere. He knew he wanted to make a change, so he retired at 60, which was a few months before, and decided to go do the Camino by himself. He said after a week of walking, one day he was walking by himself and suddenly he started to cry. He felt like he had wasted many years focusing his energy on the wrong things and not enough on his wife and daughter. He knew he couldn’t change the past, but now he knew how he was going to change the future. He said just then he walked into a small village and written across the road it said, “Your new life begins today.”
We arrived at the albergue I was staying in, and Christian stopped for a bit to have some fruit and water, and then he said goodbye and I checked into the albergue. The albergue was owned and run by a lovely woman named Ana, and she told me that I might have the 10 bed dormitory room to myself because not a lot of people chose to climb the mountain to Pradela. I really liked the idea of this, but eventually more red-faced sweating Pilgrims arrived. First two older German men arrived and they had accidentally taken the mountain route when they meant to take the flat road, so they were very happy to know there was room at the albergue. Next another couple arrived and it was Andreas and Chris, the German couple I had run into many times on the Camino and had dinner with them along with the brothers from Barcelona the night I had translated all night so we could all have a conversation. They both looked in bad shape. They also had not meant to take the mountain road. They both had the Camino cold, and also poor Chris additionally had a bladder infection and was on anti-biotics. About an hour later, the older woman, Marge (pronounced Mar-ha), who I had given the handfuls of nuts to earlier arrived and looked completely exhausted. Same story. She had not intended to take the harder route, and she had even sent her backpack ahead to another albergue on the flatter Camino which meant she had no clean clothes to change into, so she couldn’t take a shower. Ana helped call the other albergue, and they sent her backpack by taxi which arrived a few hours later. All of them spoke German, and none of them spoke Spanish, so Ana asked me to translate quite a bit, and I was happy to help. She even jokingly asked if I’d like to stay and work there.
As I was sitting down and relaxing, I got a text from Gustavo who had also taken the harder road, but he meant to, and was going to stop for a beer at the top. I told him I would have one waiting for him. Again we brought out the silly side in each other.
After a bit, he carried on to the next town, and all the Germans and I gathered together for our Pilgrim’s dinner. Ana had made all the food herself and served us bean and vegetable soup, and later rice, eggs and fish. At first all five Germans were speaking German, and I felt left out. But soon Chris returned the favor of translation, and then they would also shift into English to include me which was very nice.
As we all got into our bunks and went to sleep, I stayed up a little later on my phone, always at work on the blog, my extra Camino job. As I worked, two in the group were already snoring heavily, Chris was repeatedly coughing, and there was a rooster that kept crowing. Now that I was laying down, I was feeling congested again, and my throat was still sore, so I knew I needed a good night’s sleep to fight off the bug. So I put in earplugs, took half a sleeping pill and actually slept pretty well.
Day 28: I started the day off feeling good. I was excited because that same day I would be meeting up with a friend from home. A very surreal concept. My friend Roxanne is the one who inspired me to do the Camino in the first place, and she had arrived the day before. She had done this Camino multiple times as well as other Caminos both in Spain and Japan. She was a true Camino addict, and now I totally understood why. She was actually leading a group of 18 people, and they were doing the last week of the Camino, and then also walking all the way to the ocean in Finisterre.
As I left that morning, walking down the mountain, I came across Marge who had left earlier than I did but was taking her time going down the hill. Years before she had fallen down a manhole and broken both kneecaps, so she could only do hills very slowly. She had told me at breakfast that she was feeling proud of herself for climbing that big mountain, and that her body felt very recovered even with her sore knees. She told me that she was convinced that this walk wasn’t so much of a physical challenge but a mental one. She said she was not in shape and had these injuries, but she said that if she could do it, anyone could. I really admired her spirit.
As I carried on down the hill, I felt physically fine but as soon as I got down to the flatter part, there was a stream of Pilgrims and I found myself feeling irritated at being part of a crowd which surprised me. As the day went on, I was feeling more fatigued and cranky. A lot of the walk in the first half of the day was along a road with cars coming up behind sounding impossibly fast. I realized I was still fighting off this sickness and it was affecting my mental attitude. I was not taking Margie’s advice! Just as I was trudging along, Gustavo came out of a nearby cafe. He told me he just had the best empanadas and coffee. When a chef tells you he just had good food, you listen. I told him I’d see him further down the Camino, and went in and ordered the same and was happy I did. It helped improve my mood.
As I carried on, the walk that day was interesting as the Camino went through a string of tiny villages all connected by the road, which now only had the occasional car, but what was really nice was that there was a river running alongside that you could always see and hear.
I was feeling pretty good but still a bit rundown as I walked through these towns. However, I knew a big long steep hill was coming. This would be my second 6 to 6.5 hour walk day that ended with two hours straight uphill without a lot of shade. As I neared where the incline was soon to begin, I saw this advertisement. Hmmm, tempting.
But I carried on on foot. And as I climbed the hill, my crankiness and tiredness was returning. It started off with some shade but the last hour, when I ran out of water incidentally, was hot, steep and exposed. I won’t lie, the last hour felt like an unhappy trudgefest.
The Camino, like life, had its ups and downs, but that day’s ups were really bringing me down :).
I finally reached the top at the town of O Cebreiro and the town was ridiculously cute. I texted my friend Roxanne, and she and the group were several hours behind me, so I checked in and the rooms Roxanne had booked were very nice with private en suite bathrooms! As I settled in, Gustavo texted that he was also staying in town, and I told him to come meet me and the big group for dinner that night. Hopefully there were some Spanish speakers in Roxanne’s massive crew!
As I waited for Roxanne, I walked across the street to where people were relaxing on a wall that showed the beautiful valley we had all just climbed up and out of.
And I joined them.
And then as I was sunning myself, Roxanne arrived! So great to see my friend. A beautiful piece of home! ❤️❤️❤️
Me and some of Rox’s group. A bunch of community college teachers! My people! This impressive group walked 12 hours that day and walked both mountains in one day that I had walked in two! They only had 10 days so we’re covering some serious ground!
And some of my Camino friends joined us! Gustavo from the Canary Islands and Mateo from Italy.
And since we had just crossed over into Galicia, the 6th and last region we would walk across on the Camino, we had a delicious Gallegan soup and pulpo (octopus) for dinner. Galicia since it encompasses a region on the coast, is famous for its seafood.
At the end of the day, it was nice to blend friends from home with my Camino family. And the sunset from atop the mountain we all climbed, didn’t need any translations for all to enjoy.
307 miles walked, 193 miles to go!
Day 23: I had a pretty good foot day, so perhaps this means for the poor people reading this blog that you will not have to see any more tattered foot pictures :). Fingers and toes crossed!
I started the day walking by myself along a very loooooong stretch of road next to the highway. It wasn’t very scenic, so I put my headphones in and listened to a book. It wasn’t until I reached the town of Hospital de Orbigo that things got easier on the eyes again. The entrance to the town was over a long medieval bridge made of stones. There was even a jousting arena on the left and the guidebook said they have jousting competitions in June.
As I walked through the town, I wished I had stayed there instead as it was much more historic than the previous town I had stayed in that had a busy highway running past the room I slept in.
As I left the town, I came again to a spilt in the Camino where you could go left and walk along the highway (the slightly shorter route), or go right and enjoy the scenic rural countryside. At these crossroads is where I met Kathryn, a really lovely woman from New Zealand. I asked if I was correct about what was in each direction, she confirmed, and we both headed right. It was worth every extra step.
After several days of walking along or in view of the highway, it really made me appreciate being back in nature with no cars in sight.
We were out in farmland, so the only vehicle we saw was a tractor.
Kathryn grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand, so greeted the cows like old friends, “Hello ladies!”
We talked about a lot of things, conversation flowed easily, and she told me what led her to the Camino. She worked in a field of different forms of spiritual healing that focus on connections between the mind and body, and that this had helped some of her own healing of chronic back pain. She had had such problems with mobility that being able to park her car nearby started to determine if she would go to a place or not. She said that this had caused her world to increasingly shrink. She told me that her Camino started 18 months before as she started reading books about people’s Camino experiences; also during that time she had been mentally preparing to take on such a physically daunting challenge. She’d been walking the Camino a few weeks longer than me, and was dealing with pain as well as a Camino-acquired open foot wound that developed from a bad blister, but she was still going and taking rest and recovery days when needed. You would never know it as she walked at a regular pace, was carrying her full pack, and was very positive and funny. I enjoyed her company immensely, and she felt like someone who I would hang out with back home. She remarked that she had actually ended up walking with quite a few Californians.
As we talked, we also were paying attention to and commenting on our beautiful surroundings.
Over three weeks of walking, and I was slowing down, learning what it means to be completely in the present, and I was finally taking the time to stop and smell the roses :).
I didn’t regret for a second turning right at that crossroad.
It also turned out that Kathryn was a talented singer-songwriter, and as I write this, I’m listening to her album on Spotify: http://www.notalltheleavesarefalling.com. We reached the town she was staying in, we friended each other on Facebook, and I headed to the next town. Here was another Pilgrim I would truly love to run into again.
I walked by myself to Astorga, a city on a hill surrounded in its interiors by a medieval wall.
I was headed to a new hostel that was run by a Brazilian family. I had just been to Rio de Janeiro 3 months before in February as one of my good friends Kim had gotten engaged to a Carioca, a native of Rio. So I was interested in reconnecting with that culture, and also I like Spanish food, but there’s not a lot of variety in the cuisine. I was really excited about a change of pace and some yummy Brazilian cuisine for the Pilgrim’s dinner. Of course, after a long day of walking and tired feet and hips, this was the last bit on the way to where I was staying. My kingdom for an escalator!
I got slightly lost as the hostel wasn’t on the actual Camino (how am I going to go back to real life with no yellow arrows guiding me?), and a teenaged guy met me on the street and with Brazilian accented English asked if I were looking for the Brazilian hostel. Um, obrigada, yes I was! He led me to what was their actual house with a large dormitory room on the top floor with 10 beds.
Then 4 of us who were staying there joined for a delicious home cooked dinner.
At dinner, I got to meet a man who was born in Korea but when he was 9 his family moved to São Paulo, Brazil and he was fluent in Portuguese, English, Italian, and Spanish, but he said he was embarrassed he didn’t speak Korean very well. Yeah, what a slouch with only being fluent in 4 languages! Also at dinner was the most friendly couple from the Netherlands, Johan and Annette, who had taken 2 months of unpaid leave from their jobs to fulfill their Camino dream.
It felt nice being in a home, and while we ate, the family hung out watching some TV while the kids were with their friends talking and playing music and videos on a laptop.
It was interesting to see a different home life, and it reminded me of something Kathryn had said earlier that day. She said that on the Camino each night you slept in a different city and in different bed, so there was no real sense of home, so home became something that you carried inside you. Maybe that’s why I haven’t felt particularly homesick so far. I do feel my friends and family along with me here.
But I do miss snuggling with my cat!
Day 24: I headed out of the city of Astorga in the morning, and I wasn’t too far down the road when I saw Tracy walking ahead of me with another person. I caught up, said hello, gave her a big hug, and she introduced me to Harry from Belgium. He commented that I was walking too fast, and laughingly said to slow it down. I obliged, and he said he began the Camino feeling like he needed to cover a lot of distance each day and quickly. When he’d hear someone coming up behind him, it triggered something competitive in him and he’d pour on more speed. After a week, this led to him pulling muscles in his left leg so badly, he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to continue. Instead he carried on but slowed way down. When he did, he spent most his walking days now meeting and chatting with other people. Harry told us that he had originally imagined his Camino would be a completely solitary walk where he would look inward and come to know himself better. However, he said that now that he slowed down and came more and more out of his own shell, he said he was finding that “life is meaningless without the others.”
As, we walked, we met Jisoo and she and I started chatting. I said, “From your accent I’m guessing you’re from where I’m from,” and she said, “Korea?” I laughed and said no, and that I thought she was from the U. S.. She told me she had grown up in Indonesia and now lived in Korea. But her English was flawless, she had a perfect American accent, she knew slang and even said “Hella,” which is slang specific to the Bay Area, as in, “The Camino is hella hard to walk with busted feet!” It turned out she had gone to International school in Indonesia, had studied in Washington D. C. and the Bay Area, and mainly read and wrote in English. It was fun to talk to her and hear her 20-something perspective on the Camino which you can imagine involved more partying than the average Pilgrim.
We all stopped for a drink and rest in the next village, but Jisoo moved on quickly as she was on a tight schedule and had only so many days left to get to Santiago.
I carried on with Tracy and Harry and even though my feet finally felt so great that I could practically skip down the Camino, I matched their leisurely pace and drank in the beautiful surroundings.
We stopped in a village with a funky looking bar and got ice creams.
A young guy came up to me, handed me an actual professional looking camera (I hadn’t seen one of those in a while), and in accented Spanish asked me to take his picture in front of the bar, and this is how I met Mateo from Italy.
There were quite a few Italians on the Camino, but usually they were traveling in groups and he was by himself. Also, so far I had met only a couple of Italians who could speak English or Spanish, so I hadn’t had many conversations with anybody from that country. Mateo didn’t speak English, but he had recently started studying Spanish, so for the next two hours, we were able to communicate using both of our second languages. His Spanish often had Italian sounding endings or inflections to the words, but I could understand him perfectly. Mateo was 28 years old, from Florence, had studied to be a lawyer, and was now studying to be a judge. I told him that in my country you had to practice as a lawyer for quite a long time before you could become a judge, and he said in Italy the system was different. He had been studying in his field for 8 years, and was on a brief break between courses, and since he knew he wouldn’t be able to take much vacation in the future in his profession, he had decided to do the Camino now. We walked and talked for several hours. Then we came to the small village I was staying in called Rabanal. He was pushing on one more hour to the next town, but as he left, he was wincing as one of his knees had really started to hurt. The Camino is hard for the old and young! I wished him luck, we got one more pic and off he went.
I settled into my albergue and was grateful for a single top bunk this time because in this albergue, there were many bunk beds pushed together! Now I didn’t mind sharing a room with 14-16 people I’d just met, but this was too close for comfort! 🙂
I took a shower and was settling into my bunk to write about my day when I got a text from Tracy that she and Harry were up the road at a restaurant drinking wine with two Spaniards, and said to come join. Keeping up with writing about what happened each day on the Camino had been a challenge especially because I was writing everything on my phone! Sometimes I could use voice to text, but when there were people in the room, I didn’t want to be rude, so more often than not, I was writing everything with one finger using swipe-text. Needless to say, this takes several hours or more a day, but I also didn’t want to miss out on Camino experiences because I was trying to write about them! So I gave my swyping finger a rest that day and headed out. I was halfway up the street when I came across a cluster of Pilgrims. As I got closer I realized I knew every singe one: Kathryn who I had walked with the day before, Brian from Scotland who I’ve run into several times, and Lorcan, the Irish guy who Will and I had met on Days 1 & 2!
They were headed to get smoothies, but they said there was a well-known Pilgrim’s mass in this village at 7pm that evening that began with a Gregorian chant. I said I’d see them there and continued up the hill. I found Tracy and Harry and then got to meet Tino from Galicia and Jesús from La Rioja.
Neither of the Spaniards spoke a word of English, and Harry spoke four languages but Spanish wasn’t one of them, and Tracy didn’t speak Spanish, so I have no idea how they had all been communicating, but they were cheersing and laughing when I arrived. I got to chatting with Jesús and it turned out that he had a sad but inspiring story. He had ridden this Camino 9 times by bike and had walked the entire thing 4 times. He worked in agriculture, and one day he got stung by a wasp and had a severe allergic reaction to where he almost died. He said for the past 5 years, he has had to get monthly medical treatment, and it had so severely impacted his health that he could only now do the Camino in small segments, and that the next day was his last day before heading home. I asked if it were dangerous for him to be here, and he said he had an epinephrine autoinjector, or EpiPen, on him at all times in case of anaphylaxis because before his tongue and throat swelled so much from the sting that he almost suffocated. He said if he gets stung again, he would use the Epipen and call emergency services immediately. However, as noted by the many crosses and markers all among the Camino, we walk through some pretty remote places, many inaccessible by car, so many have died before medical personnel could reach them. I asked him why he would risk himself, but he said what is life if you let fear stop you from doing what you love.
We all chatted and laughed some more and then we carried onto a lovely outdoor area and there was Claude from Canada and Michele from France. More members of my ever-growing Camino family.
As it got later, Tracy, Harry and I headed out to get dinner and somehow we acquired more Pilgrims :).
We barely finished before 7pm and rushed to the church and we were greeted with another stunningly streaked sky that was again reminiscent of the scallop shell, the symbol that marks the Camino.
Inside, the church was already full of Pilgrims. As we sat down, the monks began to sing the beautiful and ancient sounding Gregorian chant and the priest delivered mass in English.
Although I’m more spiritual than religious, it was a good reminder of the origins of the Camino I was walking.
Day 25: Today I walked the Camino to honor and remember my friend Susana. I was walking up to the highest point of the Camino, 1500 meters above sea level, to the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross). It’s a tradition to bring a stone from your place of origin and leave it behind on the mound of rocks the cross sits above. I brought two polished glass stones for me and Susana. I chose glass because of its fragility and beauty but also its strength and durability. And I picked out a dark stone and a light stone to encompass the opposites life gives you: pain and joy, evil and goodness, love and hate, the easy and the difficult.
I knew that I wanted to walk that day entirely by myself. As I walked, I came across Pilgrims I knew: Kathryn first, then later Brian, so I said hi but quickly moved on. As the rise got steeper I came across Tino and Jesús. I stopped to say hello and gave them each a doble beso (the traditional Spanish greeting of a kiss on each cheek), but then I kept on at a fast pace and Tino called out after me, “Estás muy fuerte” as I booked up the hill. I wanted to be alone, except Susana was with me the whole time. I walked and let myself drift into my memories of her. I thought back to when Shelagh and I had first moved to Madrid over two decades before and met this 5 foot sassy, hilarious and refreshingly untraditional woman who felt like a true friend immediately. I could be my unguarded silly self with her from the moment I met her. Susana was with us the whole year we lived there going out to bars, restaurants, traveling around Spain. After I moved to San Francisco, she came to stay with me several times, I visited her in Madrid in 1998, and even stayed with her and her sister May for a month in 2004 when they were teaching Spanish in Osaka, Japan. Then Susana and I lost contact for a time as she was traveling and teaching in other countries, and well life happens. Then when I was going back to Spain in 2016 for the first time in 18 years, I tracked her down, and Susana said, “Yay, you found me!” Then she let me know she had just had to quit her job in England and move back to Madrid to start cancer treatment. We messaged almost daily for a year, and it was awful to know how much my friend was suffering from the treatments. Eventually she lost her several year battle, but I got to visit her one last time. She had lost all her hair due to chemo, but when we sat down together, it was all laughs and smiles.
I share this and the post I wrote below after her passing to keep her memory alive and to share that there once was an amazing person named Susana Ramírez Jimenez and I loved her very much.
April 13, 2018 at 10:37 PM
I met you when Shelagh and I first moved to Madrid in 1995. It was one of those friendships where I felt like we had always known each other, and we were just picking up where we had last left off. I know that you rarely find that kind of friendship chemistry. I’m sorry after several years that fucking cancer won, I’m sorry you had to suffer through all those treatments, I’m sorry that you didn’t even get to see 50 while you still looked 30, I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you yesterday. You were so much in such a small package…wicked smart, so goddamn funny, beautiful with a daring, colorful fashion sense I always envied. When I saw you last in Madrid two years ago this month, even in the midst of chemo you were still a beautiful badass. I love you Chati and time and distance never diminished that. Now that you’re not here anymore, so hard to wrap my head around that, you will always be with me. The world is a poorer place without you in it.
When I got to the Iron Cross, I climbed the hill of stones people had carried with them from all over the world, and I laid my tribute next to a rock painted with a heart that someone else had left.
I walked down the hill wiping my cheeks but feeling lighter. I continued on alone the rest of the day appreciating all the beauty and the colorful riot of the spring flowers.
I came down into the village of El Acebo where I am now. This albergue is quite new and has a spa, so I think I’m going to indulge in my first Camino massage in appreciation of and extremely thankful for the healthy body and resilient feet that got me here.
262 miles walked, 238 miles to go!
Day 21: I got my Camino groove back! Or at least I thought so for half a day. The Camino giveth and the Camino taketh away. When I walked the day before, my feet felt pretty good. I arrived at my albergue, showered, and stayed off my feet for a good four hours in my bunk. But when I got up, my feet, especially the left one, were sore and tender again. It was hard to let them heal when I needed to walk on them 14-15 miles every day. I limped over to where the brothers from Barcelona were waiting for me at a restaurant, and they were sitting with another retired Spanish guy, Pepe, from Madrid. It looked like I wouldn’t be doing any translating this evening and would be instead trying to understand the conversation that was completely in Castellano. We had a great evening, and Ana came over and talked to us for a while as well. When I headed home on still sore feet, I was thinking that perhaps I would walk one more day, and then I would take a rest day in the big city of León, but this also meant I’d need to make up the lost time by doing some much longer days ahead which wasn’t something I really wanted to do.
I started the day with my new morning routine: open eyes, check feet. Miraculously, they both felt great. I was learning that the human body was a pretty amazing thing. I had ruined my feet with that day of having to walk in flip flops, but 4 days later and walking on them 3 of those days, my feet had actually been healing and felt great. I headed out happily in my socks and Tevas going at a brisk pace and passing lots of pilgrims. The morning light was beautiful, and I was snapping lots of pictures.
As I left town, I came across a woman about my age and I said, “I see you’re also walking in Tevas, and this is how I met Tracy from Brisbane, Australia, who I walked and talked with all the rest of the day.
Tracy was a truly amazing woman with an incredible story. She told me that she had left her emotionally abusive husband of 24 years, and even though he was from a very wealthy family, he got a team of lawyers to make it look like on paper as if he did not have a lot of money, so he was able to take the majority of their assets leaving her homeless and having to move in with her mother. Her mother was also an emotionally abusive person and blamed her for being in the situation she was now in which led to a falling out between them, so Tracy moved out of there as well and now they were estranged. Tracy said she came to the realization that she had been surrounded by toxic people including a lot of the fake friends she had gained living their wealthy lifestyle, and they also turned on her. Additionally, she had a high-powered and stressful job, and she realized she wasn’t happy with that either. She said that she felt as if she had lived most of her life wearing a mask and playing a role that wasn’t her. She then called her job and quit over the phone. After that, she threw her few possessions into a couple of backpacks and started traveling, and that this had led her to the Camino. She said that she had been stripped down, left naked, and was rebuilding herself. In reflecting on what drew her here, she said about herself that she was “on the Camino looking to meet me.”
I certainly was happy to meet her. As we walked, we came across this piece of forward momentum advice applicable for the Camino and life:
Other images from the day’s walk:
As we reached our destination city of the day and one of the bigger cities on the Camino, León, with a population of about 125,000, it again felt jarring to be surrounded by buildings and cars. A lot of people I had talked to said they were doing an extra day there, but Tracy and I both agreed we would be heading back out and onto the smaller villages the next day. How was I going to go back to living in San Francisco with 800,000 people living in a compressed area of 7 miles by 7 miles and sharing walls?!
Luckily, I had booked in the historic city center so after walking an hour through neighborhoods of massive apartments buildings, I arrived at my albergue which was next to a beautiful cathedral and pedestrian-only streets and plazas.
I checked into my albergue and scored a bottom bunk in a 4-person room with all women, and things were going great.
I took my shower and was settling in and chatting with one of my new very interesting bunkmates, Beatrice from Germany who was doing the Camino a second time, and she was fluent in German, of course, but also English and Spanish, and she had been living in Mexico City for the past 25 years with her Mexican husband. I was relaxing and enjoying the conversation and then…foot-tastrophy struck!
I looked down and saw I had new blisters in an entirely new location on top of my middle toes even though they weren’t even enclosed in a shoe that day!
Seriously Camino?? This meant socks and Tevas were not going to work for the next day’s walk. I was running out of options! So I pulled out my hiking shoes that had given me the blisters on the outside of my big toes that had then turned into that painful corn that then led to the flip flop fiasco that shredded my feet! So I got out my trusty scissors and did some operating.
I hoped that this would give my big toes plenty of elbow room for the next day and avoid anymore foot issues! In the meantime, Tracy had texted me to meet up for a drink and the brothers from Barcelona were meeting me later, so I put on the Tevas (without the socks) and headed out.
Tracy and I met at an outdoor cafe next to León’s massive cathedral and soon we were the Pilgrim magnet of reunion. Pepe from Madrid showed up and brought with him Eli from Australia and Danko from Mexico, now living in and running his own restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Eli and Danko had met 3 years before on the Camino, fell in love and had been meeting up to travel and walk different parts of the world since. They planned to marry within the year and she was moving to join him in Texas. Then the brothers from Barcelona joined us and Ana showed up too.
Then I looked over at the next table and there was Doug, Shelly and Mark, all people I had met on the very first day of the Camino, 19 days before.
Other Pilgrims who stopped by, and have have made an appearance in this blog, but I didn’t get pictures of that evening: David from Spain, Mason from San Jose, Brian from Scotland, a German family I hung out with in Castrojeriz, young Stephan from Germany, and Beatrice my new bunkmate from Mexico by way of Germany. It was incredible how many people I now knew all traveling the Camino. Brian from Scotland joked that a group of sheep is a flock, a group of wolves is a pack, a group of whales is a pod, so a group of Pilgrims like that evening should be called a blister of Pilgrims!
Day 22: I awoke to the standard albergue morning sound: the rustling of bags and the zipping and unzipping of backpacks. It was 6am and my 3 bunkmates who were all up, were being really nice and getting ready in the near dark with a little light coming through the closed shutters. Usually when you’re in a bigger dormitory room, some early rising Pilgrim usually turns on the lights for the whole room around 6-6:30am. I told them I was up, and it was cool to turn on the light, and I’m sure by now you know what I looked at first…my feet! The new blisters hadn’t refilled but were tender, so I wrapped them and tried on my newly cut and ventilated hiking shoes. I decided I’d try a new approach: walk the first part of the day in the hiking shoes, and then the second half walk in the Tevas without socks. This way no particular spots were getting bothered all day long. I packed up and left León. As I walked out of the city center, I passed a statue, and judging by his face, he must have been a Pilgrim who knows the pain of Camino-wrecked big toe!
Goodbye big city!
Just as I was leaving the city, I was lost in thought and suddenly couldn’t find my next yellow arrow. I back-tracked a block and met Kiko from Israel and Nahuel from Argentina, both in their late 20s. I walked with them for the next 2 hours, and they were very curious about life in San Francisco. They heard the city was expensive, so I confirmed it by telling them that I recently saw an article where the average one-bedroom now rents for $3500/month (this is an average rent, not what everyone pays). They were shocked. They asked me if I rented or owned, and I told them I was lucky to have bought a duplex with friends in 2002, but it took over a year of actively looking and we put in over 10 offers on different places getting repeatedly outbid. A few years after buying the building, we converted it to condo (each now having separate mortgages), and then 10 years later, my friends moved north to Fairfax to raise their daughter and sold their 2-bedroom flat for what we paid for the entire building. Again shock. They asked how anyone could afford living there, and I said that many shared apartments and rent control helped keep those rents down. Next, they said that they heard that a lot of people in SF are poly (polyamorous meaning people being in multiple committed relationships at once). I laughed and said, it did seem to have become more common. I told them I had a very big group of friends having lived in SF for 23 years, but I only knew about 5 people who were poly. I told them I wasn’t and that managing one relationship was hard enough, and I was recently divorced. Nahuel said, “I have enough trouble managing one girlfriend!”
Then Kiko, who had been a lot quieter and less animated than Nahuel, said he had just had his heart-broken. He said he met a girl on the Camino and they had spent the last 2 and a half weeks together walking the Camino and were together 24/7. He said it was intense and he had fallen in love. Then two days before, she had broken things off, and he said we had actually walked past her sitting at a cafe thirty minutes before. Poor guy. I told him I was sorry to hear it but I liked what Woody Allen once said that “the heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.” I said it didn’t feel like it now, but time really does heal.
Just then we came to a crossroads, and I’m being literal here, not metaphorical :). The Camino split again as it had a few days before. You could go left and take a path that was away from the main road but it was 7 kilometers (4.35 miles) longer or an extra hour and a half. Or you could go right, walk less, but walk on a path that ran parallel to the highway all day. My recovering feet chose right and the young guys chose left :).
I walked on and up ahead I saw Ana from Uruguay waving at me. I ran to catch up, and I walked the rest of the day with this lovely woman chatting in Spanish the entire time. The path did run parallel to the highway the entire time, but we didn’t have to ever walk on the actual road, so it was fine.
There was still some beautiful scenery, and more Camino wisdom.
Ana saw the message and said “Vamos,” and I told her the difference between “Let’s go” and “Let it go.” She laughed and said, “No hacemos las dos en el Camino?” Don’t we do both on the Camino?
We arrived in the town Villadangos del Páramo, had lunch, and then I got a room in a hostel, and Ana pushed on another hour to the next town.
298 kilometers to Santiago. Vamos!
231 miles walked, 269 miles to go!
Day 18: I really enjoyed my hotel room the day before and stayed off my feet as much as I could. For dinner, I limped over to the albergue next door and had a Pilgrim’s dinner of lentil soup, chicken, green salad and wine. I ran into David, the Spaniard I had met a few days back, as well as the Brazilian woman I met in Logroño who had fallen out of the bunk bed. I didn’t see her Spanish Camino-boyfriend, so perhaps they had parted ways. She and I were the only non-Spaniards in the room of about 15 people. I was really tired after my day of extreme foot pain and was surrounded on all sides by rapid-fire Spanish. As I finished my dinner and the room started to clear, a group of Spaniards at another table waved me over and said I needed a “chupito,” which literally means “little suck,” and is what they call shots. It’s common for Spaniards to end meals with a chupito of flavored liqueur, so I joined them. Then I started talking to another group of 3 Spanish friends who had grown up together and do a section of the Camino together each year. They were taking a taxi to a bigger town with a bus and train station the next day and then catching a train home from there. I told them I wouldn’t be walking the next day and they invited me to share their taxi since we were in a small village with no buses or trains. I accepted and planned to meet them in the lobby of my hotel at 8:30 a.m. the next morning.
When I woke up, of course the first thing I did was to check my feet. Only 2 of the 7 blisters had refilled, so I drained them and the rest looked on the mend. I stood up and both my feet felt incredibly tender, and I could feel all the individual hot spots. The good news was that after soaking my feet and not putting pressure on the “chicken eye” on my big toe for a few days, the extreme soreness had subsided, and I was able to file the thing off…adios chicken eye! I was glad I was using another “skip” day and would make up the miles in the end when I walked the extra 3 days to Finnesterre. I really had no choice; I was limping on both feet.
I hobbled next door to the albergue to get breakfast and there was my German friend Ben. He said he and Erika had taken a taxi there from Boadilla del Camino because she was still really sick. She had been throwing up for 2 days, couldn’t keep anything down, and was not getting better, so they planned to taxi to the next biggest town (not the same one I was going to) to get her to a doctor. I gave him a big hug, wished them luck, and said to please keep me posted and that I hoped Erika got better soon. The Camino was kicking all our asses.
The taxi arrived and I sat in the front seat, and it seriously felt like we were going so fast! It was making me a little car sick, so instead I focused on playing some games on my phone and ignored the scenery whizzing by. They dropped me at the bus station, and I had to carry by big pack on my sore sore feet. Of course there were no buses to the town I wanted to go to. The agent told me that I needed to take a train, so I had to walk about 10 minutes to that station. Uttering a very long string of cuss words helped get me from point A to point B. The train I needed was in 4 hours, so I happily parked myself in the train station cafe and chilled.
I made it to a little town called Sahagún, checked into my hostal, and got some laundry done. At 6:30pm, I walked 5 minutes down to the main plaza in search of dinner. Everything looked closed. I stopped in at one bar-restaurant and asked after dinner and because Spaniards eat at 9-10pm, the guy said the kitchen didn’t open for a while and didn’t know of any other restaurants in town that did…in the whole town! I left and my feet were still in rough shape so didn’t want to explore much further so headed back to my hostal and snapped some pics as I walked.
On the way, I saw another bar-restaurant down a side street so stopped in. The guy said the kitchen would open in about an hour, so I said I would stay and ordered a beer. Soon two other young people came in with the tell-tale signs of the Camino Pilgrim: quick-dry pants that zipped off at the knee, hiking shoes, and they were trying to talk to the guy behind the bar in English. I told the bartender in Spanish that if he needed any help translating, I was happy to help. With a look of relief, he came over, handed me the menu and asked me to translate it for them. They decided to steer away from the garbanzos con callos (beef tripe or stomach lining) and thanked me for the assistance. They ended up joining me at the table, and I got to meet Gareth from the southwestern part of England and Sevine from Israel, the second Camino-formed couple I had met. There were so few Israelis on the Camino that I jokingly asked her if she knew David, the chef from Israel. She laughed and said yes she had met him! She said it was rare for Israelis to do the Camino and only 40 on average per year did it (recall on average 400-500 people per day were starting in St. Jean since spring had arrived). As we sat there, another person came into the bar, a blond woman in her fifties wearing the tell-tale Pilgrim attire. I asked her to join us and she happily did. Her name was Suzanne and she was from Germany.
We had a a typical Spanish dinner, a menú del día which is one set price for three courses: a lighter appetizer like a soup, salad or pasta, and a second main course, usually chicken, pork loin, or a thin cut of steak, all usually served with fries, and a dessert, usually ice cream, a fruit cup, rice pudding or flan. The owner’s adorable daughter clearly had picked the ice cream and wandered around the restaurant as the locals started coming in for drinks at the bar.
After dinner and as we left the restaurant, the main plaza, which was deserted before, was starting to fill up as it was Saturday night.
As I was heading up the street to go to my room, a full band was walking past me and already starting to tune up. As I settled into bed, I could hear the band playing, people in the plaza talking and laughing, and someone was even setting off some fireworks. Normally I would go out and join the fun, but my feet were most definitely hindering the fun. I had planned a shorter walk for the next day, about three to four hours, and I sure hoped my feet were up for it. It had only been a day, but I already missed the Camino.
Day 19: I woke up at 2am, and I could still hear some revelers in the town square, but I just laid in bed thinking about my feet. They weren’t touching anything and yet they still had a tender bruised feeling. I had a dilemma: if I walked 3 or 4 hours the next day, I might make the problem worse, and I still had 18 days of walking ahead of me. The town I was in marked the halfway point, 250 miles out of 500, of the Camino. You could even get a halfway Compostela certificate in this town. I had already walked about 200 miles and with the added three days walking to Finisterre that would give me another 55, so I was still on track of reaching my 500-mile goal with the right amount of days to do it in. However, if I couldn’t walk the next day, it would mess everything up. Trying to do it sleepless certainly wouldn’t help the matter, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning my right foot was actually feeling pretty fine and not all that tender, but my left foot felt very sore still.
I read some more encouraging words from friends and family online, and decided to just suck it up and start walking. So I packed up and covered my troubled spots with bandaids and more kinesiology tape on both feet.
I put on my stylish socks and Tevas, and hit the road.
The first hour was rough and my left foot was really hurting. I kept trying not to favor it as limping was just going to make my legs and back sore too. But I guess I wasn’t totally successful as a Pilgrim walking past me, pointed at my left foot and said in very accented English, “Blisters.” I smiled and nodded.
A little further along, I met a young guy also walking slowly. I didn’t need to point at his feet and say “blisters” as I already knew. He was Stephan, a 21 year old German guy on a year break from his studies. He had blisters on the backs of both of his heels.
We chatted for an hour and it helped me take my mind off my foot issues. I told him the name of the town I was heading too, and he said the Camino had branched into 2 parts earlier, and I had needed to take the other branch. Great. I turned on my GPS, said goodbye, and cut across towards my targeted town. I walked on a wide dirt road completely alone for about a half an hour. I felt so untethered as there were no yellow arrows to follow. I pleaded, “GPS please don’t fail me now!”
Soon I saw a crossroad up ahead and the welcome sight of two Pilgrims walking along it. One stopped and was waving. It was Doug and his wife Shelly who Will and I had run into multiple times during the first 4 days (2 weeks ago now), but they were such fast walkers, I hadn’t seen them since. They greeted me with big hugs, and we chatted and caught up all the rest of the way to the town we all happened to be staying in called Calzadilla de los Hermanillos.
The scenery was browner with more tilled fields, but the skies were clear and the air nice and crisp, a welcome relief since there were long stretches with no tree cover.