Days 26-28:

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.

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