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!!