Day 17:

198 miles walked (12 limped and some of it ran), 302 to go!

Day 17: I’m a mess from the ankles down. Today was definitely my absolutely worst day on the Camino. I started off today by putting bandaids on all the blisters on my feet that I got from having to walk yesterday in the flip flops since I couldn’t wear my hiking shoes due to my painful big toe. I covered all the blisters and the pads of each foot, which were still incredibly sore, with kinesiology tape, which is a stretchy breathable tape. I put on my double layer socks and my Tevas, and headed out.

The day before was the warmest day so far on the Camino and this next day was one of the coldest with only the day I went over the Pyrenees being colder. As I walked out of the town, I was hoping the symbols I saw on the side of the church were not indicative of how my day was going to be.

The day started out with a long flat stretch, and the cold wind was blowing so hard that despite headphones that fit snuggly inside my ears, I could barely hear my audible book. With the wind, the temperatures were probably in the 40s. I could have tried to distract myself by chatting with another Pilgrim, but my feet were already so sore that I knew I was going to be poor company. It had also rained the night before, so the ground was quite wet and muddy in places which was not ideal for somebody walking in socks and sandals. The weather forecast also said that it should be starting to rain around 11 a.m. that morning. Also not ideal for somebody walking in socks and sandals.

As I walked, the mud was caking on the bottom of my shoes and some chunks of mud were flipping up into the backs of my sandals, so I would have to stop occasionally and clean it out.

After the long flat part, came a monster hill. At least it warmed me up as I hiked up it, but the wind increased and I was grateful for my multiple layers of clothing and my gloves, and my feet were even staying warm, albeit increasingly sore, but at least warm. As I climbed, the views were stunning.

As I walked down the backside of the mountain I just climbed, my feet were really causing me a lot of concern. I was feeling pain with every single step. I stopped a few times and sat on the side of the road, and took the sandals and socks off to inspect my feet, but they were covered in tape, so I couldn’t really see if things were worsening or not, but I could see the growing bulges of filling blisters. As I sat there, a few very kind Pilgrims paused and asked if they could help. I thanked them but really nothing short of them carrying me into the next town would help. I knew I had no choice but to keep going.

After about two and a half hours, I left the Burgos region and entered the Palencia region.

After what felt like an eternity, I reached a small town and there was a restaurant, so I decided to stop and have a meal and rest my feet. I ordered a delicious breakfast and that did manage to lift my spirits for a little while.

I also chatted with a couple of other Pilgrims who were also suffering their own aches, pains and blisters. A funny thing about the Camino is that a lot of the conversation centers around feet. It is perfectly socially acceptable to kick your shoes and socks off under the table during a meal and even show other Pilgrims the problems you’re having. A Brazilian guy showed me how both his feet up to the sock line were red, swollen and covered in rash; he thought it might be an allergic reaction to wool socks, sweat and laundry soap. An Italian guy recently showed me his 3 toenails that had turned black from the walk. Losing toenails is a battle wound I would like to avoid. But really, everyone in one form or another is in the same boat.

Soon it was time to hit the road again and it hadn’t started raining yet, so hopefully I could get to the next town before that happened. But before I did, I decided to take another look at my feet and I saw that between my toes was a huge open sore from where the flip flops had rubbed away the skin. Any future hopes of becoming a foot model have definitely been dashed :).

Sorry to include gross feet pictures here, but this would not be an honest blog about the Camino without them.

As I left, I knew I had 9 kilometers left (5.6 miles) to walk to the next town I was staying in which would probably take another 2 hours, but maybe more because of my slow, shuffling and painful steps. There would be no towns between the town I was leaving and the town I was heading to, so no possibility of giving up and hailing a taxi or any other such rescue.

As I carried on, I was trying to concentrate harder and harder on the book I was listening to, so I could forget about all the pain I was feeling. Every single step hurt and I could feel the blisters growing. I was really getting into a dark and miserable place. At one point, I took out my phone and turned on the GPS to see how much time remained. Another hour. It might as well have been 10. The road stretched out endlessly in front of me.

As I slogged along, I kept checking my phone feeling like a lot of time had passed, but each time it had just been minutes. I was torturing myself. Finally I decided my feet hurt if I walked slow and my feet hurt when I walked fast, so why didn’t I just run? I had sent my big pack ahead that day because I knew my feet wouldn’t be able to take the extra weight, so all I had was my day pack and my walking stick. So I switched my audible book to music, and I started to run.

I used to jog regularly and even though it had been years since I ran, I fell quickly into my old comfortable jogging rhythm. I started to cover ground a lot more quickly, and my feet actually started to get a little bit more numb and less painful. I came up on and startled two pilgrims as I went jogging past, and I just gave them a big smile over my shoulder. As I ran, I imagined my family and friends lining the road on each side and cheering me on. I could actually picture their smiling faces and saying the encouraging words they were posting on my blog and on Facebook. I could see my friend Linda saying, “You got this!” and my friend Dave saying, “Keep on keepin’ on!” I saw my aunt Ginger saying “So proud of you honey!” and there was LeWeldon shouting, “I love you bunches!” and Albert nodding, “Mad respect.” And there was Rob hollering, “I can’t wait to join you!” And my friends Tina and Karen saying, “We’re living vicariously through you!” And my friend Susan calling out, “Love you lady!” and Chuck laughing and saying, “Tear it up beautiful.” And my friend Lisa saying, “Kicking ass like I knew you would.” And Randy cheering, “Go Cuzzie go!” And my mom smiling and saying as I passed, “You’re on a journey that will change your life forever.” And there was Kevin who I teased mercilessly about wearing Tevas in SF shouting, “How ya liking those Tevas now?!” As I imagined all this, I was soon laughing and crying as I ran on.

Through alternating between jogging and power walking, I startled another pair of Korean Pilgrims I’d met before as I sped-walked past and one of the young guys just smiled and said, “Oooh, fast.” Soon I closed the distance to the next town and checked into a nice hotel for $40. I had even gotten there before my backpack which arrived a half an hour later. I asked the guy at the front desk for a room with a tub to soak my feet, but he said none of the rooms had tubs, so like a good Pilgrim, I made due.

Days 13-16:

186 miles walked, 314 to go.

Day 13: Today was a walk and talk day. As I was having breakfast in Grañón, I ran into Craig again, the pagan prison chaplain. He told me the sad news that a 62 year old Pilgrim from Holland died the day before not far from where we were. It was a sobering reminder of how rough on the body this pilgrimage could be.

We finished breakfast and I headed out with Craig in his full Camino kilt outfit.

We chatted as we walked together the first half of the day, and soon my face hurt from laughing. He’s a larger than life person and also sort of a Camino celebrity. When we stopped to get water, all the Pilgrims were taking turns to get their picture taken with him. I also snapped a pic of him filling up his water bottle.

We talked about his religion, homophobia, his life in Birmingham, and I shared some of the more colorful Spanish cuss words and some unfortunate and embarrassing mistakes I made when learning Spanish.

Some pictures of the views as we walked and from when we stopped in at a local church.

When we stopped in the next town, I was ready for lunch, but Craig wanted to push onto the next town as he’d heard there was a monastery where you could eat and pray with the monks, so I said goodbye and met David, a Spaniard, and Joe, from Germany.

After lunch, I carried on with Joe for the next 4 hours or so to the town of Villafranca, and we talked about the different people we’d met along the way, politics, and because he majored in economics and works in finance, we talked about the changing global markets as well as the effects of Trump locally and globally. His English was quite good, and he also said he really liked American stand up and like Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Louis C. K, Bill Burr, and other comics I also really liked (I’d seen the first 3 live). Being able to understand humor and comediennes is definitely a higher level of language proficiency with the play on words, slang, and pop culture references. I’m pretty sure a comedienne talking in Spanish would go right over my head. The surrounding views continued to be beautiful.

We arrived in Villafranca, and I stayed in my first albergue with single beds (non bunk beds) with half-wall partitions between the beds and a locker to stow the backpack.

I set my bed up (laid out my sleep sack and grabbed a blanket), showered and headed to the patio where Joe was having a beer with another guy from Germany, Herman. That’s right, Herman the German.

Soon we were chatting with an Aussie couple and an English guy that they had met before on the Camino and were walking it again together.

We all then went to dinner as a group, and it was fun getting to know more people.

Day 14: I slept late (7am), and was one of the last Pilgrims in the dorm room when I woke up. My big toe on my right foot hurt, and I really didn’t want to put my feet back into the hiking shoes. My best friend Rob, also a fellow teacher at Skyline, was meeting me in Santiago on June 5th, and we had talked about him hopping on a bus and coming to meet me on the Camino and walking the last 2-3 days with me. But a few days ago, we had talked about it again, and we both felt like it might be strange to have somebody just join in for the last few days with a bunch of pilgrims who had been walking a lot longer, and suffered a lot more, and he would be jumping in with his new shiny shoes and arriving at the finale with everyone. We decided instead that he and I would walk from Santiago to Finisterre. The Camino officially ends in Santiago, but many choose to carry on and walk all the way to the ocean. “Fin” in Spanish means “end” and “tierra” means land, so the name Finisterre means end of the land or earth. Before Columbus sailed out and found there was more land and more people in the Americas, the Spaniards believed that this was the literal end of the world. So my bestie Rob and I would be walking to the ends of the earth together! However this meant that I needed to cut out 3 days somewhere out of the middle of my Camino, so I could add those 3 days on to the end to walk with Rob. The important thing to me was to walk the 500 miles across Spain, which was my goal, so I would still be walking the same amount of miles, but instead my walk would now end with my feet in the ocean. With this in mind, I decided this day, Day 14, would be one of my “skip” days. So I packed my things, and took a $3 thirty-minute bus ride to Burgos, one of the bigger cities on the Camino de Santiago with over a hundred thousand people. I treated myself to an individual room in a hostel in the historic City Center of Burgos for $35. Even though this was supposed to be a rest day, I ended up walking all over the beautiful city, but in my flip flops to let my tired feet breathe, heal and recover.

After waking around in morning, I checked into my hostal at 2pm and did something I hadn’t done in two weeks, I took a 2-hour bath and soaked my tired muscles, and it was wonderful. In the early evening, I headed back out into the city and the streets were now filled with Spaniards hanging out with their friends and families. I had enjoyed hanging out all that morning by myself, but now I found myself looking around to try to find my fellow Pilgrims. But because it was a big city, the Pilgrims had been swallowed up by the city, and it felt like just me and the Spaniards. Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? That’s how I felt. As I walked around, I felt very solitary and even melancholy. The city was incredibly scenic all the same.

Just as I was feeling like the only person by themselves in the city center, I got a text from one of the women I met on the Camino asking which city I was in, followed right away by a message from another of the really cool women I had met who was a few days behind but just checking in to say hi, and then I got an email from Joe the German I had walked with the day before. My Camino family was reaching out when I needed it most.

None were in Burgos, so I sat at an outdoor cafe to have dinner and saw nachos on the menu. When I had lived in Madrid for a year in the 90s, the thing I missed the most was Mexican food, which at the time didn’t really exist there. Seeing nachos on the menu, I decided I would give it a try.

The chips were fine covered in chopped tomato, onion, beef, and white cheese (not typical), but the tiny bit of sour cream on the side wasn’t enough for more than a few chips, the other little side was BBQ sauce(?), and the green stuff I think was supposed to be guacamole but it was inedible. I appreciated the attempt though :). As I sat there, I saw again the criss-cross of airplane trails in the sky overhead which I had seen quite a few times and had started looking at it as a symbol for the Camino because even though thousands were walking it, I kept running across the same friends.

I paid my bill, started walking across the square and heard my name, and there was Erika, the German woman who was traveling with Ben, who I’d already run into several times at very different parts of the Camino!

Ben soon arrived but it was getting late, so we made plans to meet in the same town and stay in the same albergue the next day.

Day 15: I headed out and 20 minutes into the walk, I saw Erika standing on the side of the road talking to two Brazilian friends. These were friends she met on her first day of the Camino weeks before and hadn’t seen since, and they were heading home that day. Camino criss-crossing again. Erika’s Brazilian friend taking her picture.

We made it about 20 more minutes down the road and we ran into Joe from Germany! He had been in Burgos as well, but my email reply had gone into his spam folder, so we didn’t connect, but we found him anyway.

We all carried on together, and Joe decided to join us in the same albergue in the town Hornillos de Camino.

Views along the way:

We stopped in a church, and a lovely nun gave us blessings and necklaces of a saint who would protect us on the Camino and in life.

We stopped for food and we all took our shoes off to air out our feet. When I put mine back on, my big toe on my right foot was really hurting. Joe gave me a gel plaster to put on it, and we carried on, but about 20 minutes down the road, I was severely limping and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep going. Erika lent me her sandals, since my big toe could no longer take any pressure on it at all, and I was able to make it the rest of the way, but I certainly wasn’t making any fashion statement with my wrapped toes in oversized shoes.

We made it to our albergue, I unwrapped my toes, took a shower, and I met everyone on the back patio. Joe looked at my big toe and said, “I think you have a chicken-eye.” I handed him my phone and asked him to use Google Translate for the German word he was translating into English. He put the word in and it came back “corn.” What kind of old-timey affliction had the Camino given me?? I suddenly had turned from almost 50 to nearly 100! My toe hurt so badly. When I even lightly touched it, it sent shoots of pain throughout my entire body, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to put an enclosed shoe on it again anytime soon. I knew I needed to buy Tevas, the rugged sport sandal that I could hike in but would not put pressure on my toe. However, we were in a tiny village with no stores that sold shoes. My options were to take a cab back to Burgos to try to buy the shoes, or to walk for about 5 hours in flip-flops to the next town the next day that did have a shoe store. I couldn’t face going backwards after all the work it had taken to come that far, so I decided I would walk one day in flip-flops. Having made that decision, I pulled out the playing cards and Joe and I played card games and drank beers until we all went to dinner.

The Germans joked that hanging out with them, I had been Germanized and would soon be like them rocking the socks and sandals look.

Day 16: Things started out great. I left town on my own as Joe had left earlier that morning to cover more miles that day, and Erica was having stomach problems, so she and Ben were walking a lot more slowly behind. I started off for the first several hours listening to an audible book, but soon as I was passing two guys, they started talking to me in English, so I put away my headphones and I met David from Israel and Mason from San Jose. David soon stopped to adjust his pack, and Mason and I carried on and chatted all the rest of the day to the town we both happened to be staying in Castrojeriz. Mason was the first person I had met who lived the closest to SF. He was a super interesting guy who had been in the Navy and had served on a submarine for four years and he said for 85% of the time he was under water. We talked about all kinds of things from Sci-Fi movies and TV shows to relationships and he gave some very interesting insights into young people, he was 28, dating in the online swiping right and left era.

The weather was getting a bit warm, but again the surroundings were beautiful.

Everything had been going good all day with my flip-flops, but in the last hour I was feeling severe pain. I had worn these same shoes while traveling a lot and had walked at least 5-6 hours or more for many days and even more recently when I went to Rio de Janeiro in February a few months before. Since it was their summer, I pretty much lived in these flip flops for 2 weeks. However, I think the dusty and rocky terrain of the Camino, was having a different effect.

I stopped and slid my shoes off and saw that between my toes was getting raw, and I had blisters on the bottoms of my feet on the top pads of each foot and on the heels. Mason had a leg cramp, and we both pretty much limped into town.

I found a shop that sold Tevas and bought a pair, but felt worried that even with the different shoes, my feet would hurt too much to walk a full day again. I asked about a bus, but the only bus came the next day at 6:30 p.m. I didn’t want to waste a whole day, so I decided I would walk again and hopefully my feet would be better, chicken-eye and all.

I settled into my albergue and at 7:30 p.m. went to the Pilgrim’s dinner. There was a long table of us and everyone was very friendly and having fun.

Across from me was a woman from Texas, Deah, who had also been in my albergue the night before. We got to talking about travel and so far, the typical Pilgrim I had met was also an avid traveler, but Deah beat all records! She was in her early 40s and had already been to 122 countries! Amazing. She had been to not only an incredible list of places but places I wouldn’t even think one could go to like North Korea. She gave me the link to her travel blog to check out: https://palmtreemusings.com/about-2/. After dinner, our host called our attention to an enormous wine press above us and here’s Deah and David, an Israeli working as a chef in Paris, turning it:

Afterwards, we went down underneath where we were eating into a subterranean ancient wine cellar. Our host gave us a tour and we got to taste the wine made there.

Afterwards, David, the Israeli, and I each bought a bottle to share with the group and we all chatted and hung out back upstairs until 10pm when it was time for lights out.

Days 11 & 12

135 miles walked, 365 miles to go!

Day 11: The evening before was a very interesting Pilgrim’s dinner. There were just 7 of us: the two Germans in my same room, I think named Barbara and Doug, but their English was limited and their accents strong, so I’m not sure if I have that right. There was a nice couple from the Bay Area, the husband described himself as a hippy, and his wife’s grandmother was from Germany so she could understand the Germans a little bit. There was a young woman from Hungary who spoke heavily accented English, a guy Vic from western Australia, and a Spanish guy Javier from Barcelona who spoke no English. The dinner started out pretty silently because there wasn’t a common language at the table. But soon the Germans were talking together, and the rest of us who could all understand English started to have a conversation, and I translated for the Spaniard, so he wasn’t the only one left out. The guy from the Bay Area was telling us how he liked to go to festivals like Burning Man and he was wearing a tie-dyed concert shirt from a festival inspired by the Grateful Dead. He said at these festivals he likes to take ecstasy and LSD, and I translated drawing surprised smiles from Javier. I tried to explain what Burning Man was, a temporary art-inspired week long festival with a lot of electronic music, no money exchange and a focus on community, but was getting some blanks stares from the Europeans, so I pulled up pictures on my phone. Everyone was very fascinated by the bizarre looking gathering of people in the desert wearing costumes, body paint or nothing at all, the other-worldly art, the vehicles that shoot out flames, and the 40 foot tall “man” at the center of it all which goes up in a huge inferno at the end of the festival.

I’m not sure if we helped or hindered their views of Californians :).

After dinner, everyone left the table and Vic, Javier and I chatted for another hour and a half. When Vic would talk, I would translate everything he was saying into Spanish, and when Javier would talk, I would do the same and translate everything into English. And when I told a story, I’d say a sentence in English then translate it in Spanish, then another sentence in English then translate it in Spanish and so on, so no one was sitting there for too long not understanding. It was a linguistic workout. It turned out that the guys had a lot in common. Both were avid hikers, both liked doing solo backpacking, and both were walking the Camino logging in long days of many kilometers. Vic was going to do the Camino in 25 days. Following the Camino guidebook many use here, the walk is broken into 33 stages (days) and that’s going at a good clip without taking any rest days. It was really cool to be able to bridge communication like that and find that these two guys who couldn’t even communicate had quite a bit in common. Makes me wonder how often this must be true not just between people who can’t communicate but even between people who just don’t.

In the morning I got up, stuffed everything into my backpack, said auf wiedersehen to the Germans, and headed back out onto the Camino.

On this day, I walked for 5 hours with a really amazing Australian man named David. He’s a couple of years older than me, married to an Italian woman, has twin girls who are 18, and lives in Brisbane in Queensland. He was very intellectually curious, self taught and well read, and we ran the gamut of topics. First he asked if he could ask me why I was doing the Camino. I told him about my sabbatical, and I also shared the personal changes going on for me recently. He shared that he was here for a spiritual recharging. He and his wife had left the Jehovah Witness religion 10 years before, and he was simplifying what religion meant for him, and felt that truly what is most important are love and compassion. He demonstrated this as we walked along. Every Pilgrim we passed, he warmly greeted, introduced us, asked where they were from, and since he speaks English, Italian, and French, was able to directly connect and share some quick but genuine and friendly exchanges. His openness and kindness were infectious. He was a good listener, intellectually challenging, spiritually probing, and 5 hours never went by so fast.

As we walked and talked, I still managed to take pictures to capture the ever changing Spanish countryside we were walking across or what David referred to as “a beautiful assault on the senses”:

We, stopped in one town called Nájera for a snack.

We carried on together to the next town where I was staying called Azofra. He was pushing on, so we said goodbye. It was a relatively brief friendship connection, but I won’t forget him. I feel the imprint of the different people I meet here each day. The people here and their kindness is a beautiful assault on the senses.

Day 12: Happy mother’s day! So of course I called my mother and she was very happy to hear I was safe and sound, and she was happy she could follow where I was on the blog each day. I left Azofra at 8:30 a.m. and the skies were bright blue, definitely no rain today, and there were streaks criss- crossing in the sky overhead.

I walked all morning by myself enjoying an audible book and taking pictures of the gorgeous countryside.

The weather so far had been really good for this trip. The first day when I walked over the Pyrenees, it was cold at the top and it rained a little bit and there was snow on the ground in one part, but I heard the next day it was snowing and raining and it was a really brutal crossing for those who went the day after me. Since then there was a day or two with some light rain, but so far nothing too bad. For the past week, it had been nice and brisk in the morning, and warm in the afternoons. Having lived in Spain before, I knew that summers would be too hot to do a walk like this with temperatures in the upper 90s, so I’m really grateful that my school had given me this amazing opportunity as I wouldn’t have been able to do it during my summer vacation. Also, since it was spring, it was very green and wild flowers have been everywhere.

However, as I kept walking, I was getting increasingly tired, my back and hips were feeling tight, and I was worried I might be coming down with something. I had taken some flu medication I had brought with me the night before, and I had a great night’s sleep, so I was surprised I was already feeling run down and it wasn’t even noon yet. I was also getting some small shoots of pain in my left foot, the foot that had the tendonitis in it before I left and why I was still taking anti-inflammatories. Additionally, in the last day or two, the middle toes on my right foot had been starting to hurt, so in the morning I had been wrapping those in Band-Aids and tape along with my big toes, as the blisters were gone but where they were was still tender and a little painful.

I stopped to rest and get lunch in one of the bigger towns called Santo Domingo. I ordered calamari and an ensalada mixta, a typical Spanish salad with tuna, eggs, tomatoes, and other vegetables. As I waited for my food, a local guy in his 60s came in to have a glass of wine. He asked where I was from and I told him California, and we started chatting about the Camino. He said he’s done the Camino three times…in a car. I laughed and he asked me if it were true that the albergues were full of snoring people. I confirmed that there could be a lot of snorers, but occasionally you’ll be in a quiet room. He asked me if I were sure I was from California, because he said I sounded like an Española. I had gotten this a lot as California is next to Mexico and quite far from Spain, so my lisping Spanish accent was unexpected. After years of traveling in Mexico and Central America, I had lost the lisp, but after a day or two back in Spain it was back. They pronounce “Cs” and Zs with a “th” sound i.e. gracias sounds like grathias and the Spanish clothing store Zara, popular in the U.S., is actually pronounced Thara. They also have their own slang and rhythm of pronunciation. A good comparison would be the difference between British English and American English. I told him I had lived in Madrid in the 90s. He said, “Por eso, te invito a una copa de vino rosado de Rioja.” Because of that I’d like to treat you to a glass of rosé wine from Rioja, which was the region we were in. We clinked glasses and chatted as I ate my lunch. Then he said he needed to go meet his wife because today was the celebration of Santo Domingo, the saint that the town we were in was named for.

After I finished eating and walked further into the town, I saw that this celebration had brought the whole town out in mass. As I walked towards the main cathedral in the center of town, crowds of people were lined up on both sides of the street. Soon a religious procession came down the center. First were the religious leaders of the church, followed by young boys in traditional dress dancing, followed by people carrying the thousand year old remains of Saint Domingo on their shoulders like pallbearers.

After the procession had passed, I waded my way through the crowds and saw the beautiful Church where many had just attended mass.

Ready to carry onto the next town, I looked around but couldn’t find any of the markers for the Camino. It was a bit disconcerting to not have yellow arrows to guide my way. I asked a local, and he guided me back. It’s strange, but it was a big relief to find the yellow arrows again. How am I going to adjust back to my real life with no markers to follow? 🙂

As I was walking out of town, I looked in front of me and across the street were Erica and Ben, the fun Germans I had met 2 days before. We had a happy reunion, and they said they read about themselves in my blog, and Erika had sent the link to her daughter, so her daughter could see what she was up to.

They had both stayed an extra day in Santo Domingo because of the religious celebration, and they had attended the mass and Ben, a Catholic, said it was one of the most special things he had ever attended and not just on the Camino. We then talked about how amazing it was that you could run back into the same people even though so many people were walking the Camino at different paces and staying in different places. Erika said she read about David in my blog, and she told me she had walked with him the day before. When David and I were talking, he had had dinner with Craig, the prison chaplain I had met in Logroño. It’s so interesting the criss-crossing that happens even though we’re all heading in the same forward direction. Erica said there are no coincidences but just incidences and that they are a gift.

What is not a coincidence was that we were all headed to Grañón because Erica had recommended that I go there and stay if I could. She said that there is a special church there that the Pilgrims can stay in, make a communal dinner together, and then sleep on mats on the floor in the church all for free and they can donate what they like. There are 3 rooms in the church full of side by side mats.

I’m not that Camino-hardcore (there are 2 bathrooms and 2 showers for what looked like 60 or more people), so I was in an albergue down the road, but I joined them for dinner and it was so amazing. When I walked in, people from all different countries, speaking different languages were singing, dancing and playing music together.

Then Ben, my German friend, sat down at the piano and I didn’t even know he could sing and play, and he started playing songs by request and everyone was singing along with him.

Then they served a dinner. It’s incredible they serve this many Pilgrims every night. No charge, no profit.

Afterwards, we all washed the dishes together.

Such a sense of community. More than I ever expected. Afterwards, those who were interested went into the church for the Reflection.

As we passed around a candle, we each shared what the Camino meant to us. Some spoke in their native language and others shared in accented English, clearly not their native language, so that more people in the room could understand what they wanted to share. Some cried as they were speaking, some shared very personal parts of their lives, and it was a very beautiful and moving experience. At the end, one of the volunteers who helps run everything said, “You don’t just walk the Camino with your feet, but also with your heart.” Then we all went around and gave each other hugs.

Tomorrow, I’ll be walking out of the Rioja region and into the region called Burgos. My feet may be a bit sore and tired, but my heart is full.

Days 9 & 10

107 miles walked, 393 miles to go!

After a rough day yesterday, the Camino and I are friends again. So that I would have a good day and because another toe was bordering on a blister, for $6 I sent my big pack ahead to the next albergue and walked with my smaller day pack. For the first half of the day I was practically skipping down the Camino. I think I will alternate days with the heavier pack and then wear the lighter pack when I need some rest days.

The evening before I had hung out with a group of solo women travelers: Susan from Norway, Emma from England, who I had cooked with the evening before, Yoon, a young woman from South Korea, and Dolors, a Spanish woman from Catalonia Spain. It turned out all of us were avid travelers. Emma had been all over Africa, Susan and Dolors had traveled all over, and Yoon was nursing a sore knee she had injured while trekking in South America. We were all walking to the same city, Logroño, the next day. This is one of the bigger cities on the Camino, and Dolors said it had great nightlife, and it was Dolor’s last day because she had to get back to her son, so we made plans to meet up for dinner and a barhop. I figured I could do a late night as I got a private room with a private bathroom for $25 and it had a check out at 10am! All seeming like unspeakable luxuries at this point. So I had a nice egg and chorizo breakfast sandwich, a café con leche, and I hit the road around 7:30am.

It was a brisk beautiful morning, the sun was at my back and nature was showing off. So so beautiful.

And I had some fun with the shadows.

Further along, sadly there were some markers for fallen Pilgrims.

For the first time, I walked the entire day by myself and didn’t listen to music or books. It was just me and the Camino.

I would occasionally pass others and even saw the lovely South African couple again who had been in the same albergue the night before. I passed by and then they caught up with me in the next town called Viana where I was sitting having a hot chocolate, so they and their German friend joined me.

And then I headed back out on my own.

In the last hour, I was starting to feel pretty tired, and my feet were getting increasingly sore when an older Spanish woman stopped me on the trail and asked if I spoke Spanish. I said yes and she asked me if I were doing the Camino for religious reasons. I told her I was doing it for a mixture of reasons. Then she said that according to the Bible people shouldn’t do it to suffer. Then she started talking about scripture and pulled out her phone and started reading passages from the Bible to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. She was talking really fast and using a lot of religious terminology in Spanish I wasn’t fully understanding. She wasn’t even giving a break in the conversation for me to ask any questions. After about 5 minutes I saw Susan, the Norwegian woman from the night before, coming up trail, so I was able to say that my friend was here and I wanted to walk with her. The woman bid me goodbye and I thanked Susan for her timely arrival. The night before, Susan had mentioned that she likes to hang out with people at night but walk the Camino alone, so once we rounded a bend, I bid her a buen Camino and left her to walk by herself. Soon I arrived in Logroño which after walking in the countryside all day seemed like a huge bustling city. Spain has 17 autonomous regions, I’ll be walking through 6 of them, and I had just walked from the Navarre region into the next one, La Rioja, as Logroño is in that region.

As I neared my albergue, I thought the neighboring mural that said “Girl Power” was very fitting. So far I had met some really amazing women and was looking forward to hanging out with them that night. After I settled into my albergue, I started texting with Dolors and Emma to make plans. Then I ran into Michaela who was also checking into my same hostal and she said was excited to join us as well. Soon after Ivana texted me that she had just arrived, so I think we’re going to have a fun ladies night. I’m very glad I have a late check out tomorrow!

Day 10: I’m not going to lie, I started out the morning feeling a little rough and a lot dehydrated. After a few ibuprofen I was ready to start my day at the luxurious late hour of 8 a.m. Our ladies night turned out to be a much larger group of fun pilgrims ranging in ages from 20s to 50s. Dolors had met more Pilgrims and invited them along, so at 5 p.m. I met the group and we started drinking delicious Rioja wine at $6 a bottle!

Here are people showing their stamps on their Pilgrim’s passport. You get a stamp at each albergue you stay in, and you can get stamps in churches or sometimes from food vendors. At the end of the Camino you show your passport with all its stamps to get your Compostela certificate, proof that you did the walk.

Needless to say , we went through a few bottles.

I was sitting next to a very interesting guy living in England named Craig who was a gay Pagan prison chaplain, and he was walking the whole Camino in a kilt, which you can hear him talking about in the video I posted. In the video you can hear him saying how he was wearing his kilt like a true Scotsman, with nothing underneath. I also met my first Camino-formed couple, a young woman from São Paulo, Brazil and a really funny guy from León, Spain. She told me one night they were partying so hard that she came back to the albergue and accidentally crawled into a top bunk bed that another woman was already sleeping in. Then the girl from São Paulo rolled over and fell on the ground. In the morning, the woman whose bunk she crawled into asked her how she was feeling and had to tell her about the fall because she didn’t remember any of it. So the girl from São Paulo took off her sweatshirt and her left shoulder and arm were a big purple bruise. Everyone walks their their own Camino and they were doing a wilder walk than I was :). Some carried on, but Dolors, Craig and I went to go get dinner.

I said goodbye to Dolors who was headed back home and to Emma and Michaela who were both doing a rest day in Logroño. We all exchanged contact information and I really hope I see them again.

I also said goodbye to my lovely single room in Logroño and headed out towards Navarrete. It had rained during the night but as I headed out, the ground was wet, the skies were cloudy but no rain.

As I left the city, it was difficult to find the markers for the Camino. Sometimes the path is really well marked with either yellow arrows or the scallop shell symbol. But other times you feel like Hansel and Gretel trying to follow the bread crumbs. Here are some examples of what these markers can look like and where you might see them.

But you can get lost. I’ve only done it once by walking down a hill that I had to turn around and walk back up, but I just lost a few minutes. Haen, the Dutch psychiatrist I met earlier, said he was walking along a busy road and a Spanish guy pulled his car over and said, “Hey, are you a peregrino?” Haen said yes and the guy said, “Well you’re not on the Camino.” The guy then offered him a ride and drove him back to the Camino. When the Camino doesn’t provide, the kind Spanish locals do.

Leaving Logroño it was hard to find the markers and I had to ask a few Spaniards if I were on the right path. I was also happy to be leaving the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Soon, I was back out in the beautiful countryside.

I was about an hour down the road listening to music when a guy started talking to me, so I put away my headphones and met Ben from Germany. He asked me how many kilometers I planned to go that day, and I told him I was still struggling to understand kilometers because we use miles in the United States. I have to say there’s a lot more math involved on the Camino than my English teacher brain had bargained for. Much of the conversations with other Pilgrims involve distance, which is always in kilometers, or the weight of backpacks, which is always in kilograms, or weather and temperature, which is always in Celsius. Unfortunately the United States uses a system not based on tens so it doesn’t make a lot of sense and requires some complicated math to convert. We soon caught up to his friend who he was traveling with Erika, and she told me this was her second Camino. The first one she left from her home in Germany, walked through Switzerland and France, walked this entire Camino and then went South. She walked for 4 months.

Soon we arrived at a hut where a man sat with a table of oranges and bananas and walking staffs. You could take any of these things with an optional donation of your choice. Erika got very excited and said, “Oh, this is Marcelino, he is a famous pilgrim!” We all stopped for about 20 minutes and chatted with him. He told me he started doing the Camino in 1961 when he was 17 and has since dedicated his life to walking and meeting people and focusing on what is important: family, love, and kindness. He said he has done Caminos with his dog and donkey and had pictures in his hut of him walking past Caminos.

He said he met Barack Obama when someone in Obama’s family did the Camino and wanted him to meet a guy “straight out of Biblical times.”

Erika, Ben and I carried on and Ben was really hilarious. He said on this journey he would look inside to find himself, but who knows, maybe no one will be home. Soon another German came up behind us who they had met earlier, a younger guy named Benjamin. This was turning into German day! He and I walked ahead and chatted all the way into the next town. He was a Civil Engineer also from Southern Germany like Ben and Erika and was another really nice and interesting person. It has also been interesting how many working professionals I’ve met here with a variety of careers. I’ve met a veterinarian, at least 5 nurses, a doctor, 3 psychiatrists so far, a few teachers, a chemical engineer, a graphic designer, a contractor, a doctor, a winery owner, a city planner, and the list goes on.

Soon we arrived in Navarette, the village I was staying in, so I said goodbye and went into my albergue. The guy who ran it had a wall filled with completed Pilgrim’s passports, as he does the Camino every few years and also did one in Japan.

I headed into my 6 bunk dorm room and so far there was just one other Pilgrim in the room and she was from, one guess…Germany! She only spoke a few words of English, but she was so nice and welcoming. I took off my shoes and was cutting off the tape I had wrapped around my sore toes and recovering blisters, and she reached into her pack and brought over some gel plasters. So nice. I thanked her but told her I had bought some and that now I was putting on flip-flops to let my feet breathe. Then she started trying to communicate with me and started naming years and was saying 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019 and I realized she was telling me the years she had done the Camino. She looked to be in her late 60s and she said she has asthma. More incredible people on the Camino.

I told her I’d see her at the Pilgrim’s dinner that night, and headed into town in search of food. I have to say, this had been one of my favorite places so far. I am really loving seeing tranquil, unhurried village life. In my real life, I feel like I’m always impatient and rushing around. Now I finally feel like I’m really slowing down, in the best way. As I walked around the small village in the warm sun, I felt a contented peace.

I found the main plaza and there was an enormous beautiful church there.

I walked in and even though I’m not religious, I felt like I was in a very special place.

I walked outside and there were Erika and Ben sitting at an outdoor cafe, so we had lunch together, and I had the most incredible paella.

Then a guy walked up, I greeted him in English, and he said hello back and asked if he could join us. We said of course and asked where he was from. He was from Austria. Not Germany but German speaking…this really was German day. Here’s Ben and Hans.

With 3 German speakers at the table, there was lots of conversation in German, but they would stop occasionally and give me quick translations. Hans, our new Austrian friend, had also met Marcelino and had gotten his autograph next to where he appeared in his Camino guidebook. This guy was famous!

Hans said he also read in the book that in 1918, 60 Pilgrims walked the Camino and that last year 300,000 did. Then 3 younger women walked up looking for a table, and I don’t think I need to tell you where they were from. I’m pretty sure Germany is empty this month :). Surprisingly, there are also a lot of Americans, French, Italians, Koreans, and Brazilians. Well, I’m headed to the communal Pilgrim’s dinner soon. If there are any more Germans in this town, I’m sure I’ll see them there! 🙂

Ps. Quick update, as I’m in my bunk finishing this entry, a new Pilgrim just joined us and I think you can see where this is going. A museum model maker from Munich, Germany!

Pps. When I walked into the dining room for dinner, there was a long haired guy with piercings already at the table. German of course 🙂

Days 7 & 8

88 miles walked, 412 miles to go.

Day 7: The Pilgrim dinner in the cave the evening before (which used to be a wine cellar) was a fun experience. We had prawns & garbanzos, salad, red wine and a delicious dessert. I chatted with two really nice guys from Michigan, one teaches college classes on pilgrimages, and he was a wealth of information.

In the morning, I woke up at 6:45am and I was one of 3 Pilgrims left in a 16 bunk room. I guess I was being a lazy Pilgrim! I made up for it later as I did my first 7 hour walk day (about 14.5 miles but with a couple meal stops) with the big pack. The benefit of carrying your pack is that you can be free and nomadic. You can walk how far you want and then you can stop and stay where you like, but the only catch is you need to find accommodations without making a reservation. This was the very first day I didn’t book my next lodging. I had decided to walk as far as I could. May had turned out to be a busy time on the Camino, so I was hoping all the beds in the town I finally ended up in weren’t already taken.

My legs felt great during the walk, but my feet were feeling very sore during the last 2 hours. I walked from Cirauqui to a town called Villamayor de Monjardín. I walked for the first 2 hours completely alone and put my headphones in for the first time enjoying music and later some of an audible book. Again, the surroundings were gorgeous.

As I worked my way up a hill, I met a nice Indian man who was living in Australia. We chatted and walked together until I decided to stop at a little cafe in a small town around 9:30am and had one of my favorite Spanish breakfasts: tortilla de patata, fresh squeezed pulpy orange juice and a cafe con leche.

I continued on and and this day’s Camino went under a few bridges.

As I carried on, I saw more and more Pilgrims on the path and walked through some scenic villages.

Then I met a psychiatrist from Holland named Haen. We walked and chatted about life, family and the Camino for hours and then we came to the Fuente de Vino, the fountain of wine on the Camino. Pilgrims can drink from the wine fountain which I tried to do without touching my mouth to it as others were doing but it got messy.

Then the Dutch man and I stopped for lunch and I met the nicest guy from Portugal named Reuban who was now living in London.

They were going further than I was that day, so we said goodbye as I arrived in Villamayor de Monjardín. Luckily, the first albergue I arrived in had 3 beds left so I got one of them. I walked into my 12 bunk room and the first person I saw was Ivana who I had met my very first day in St Jean! Such a small world. We hugged and greeted each other like old friends. I settled in, took a much needed shower, and then met some more amazing women, each walking the Camino sola. I was sitting in the shared living room area of the albergue charging my phone and writing this blog, and an English woman, Emma, came in and we started talking and we decided we would get dinner together. Then a German woman, Micheala, came in and said since we had a kitchen, perhaps we could all cook our dinner together and she showed us some pasta and sauce she had just purchased at the local market. We all agreed and Emma and I went to the same market to add to the dinner. We got salad, sausage, cheese, wine and chocolate bars for dessert. Then Ivana joined us and we cooked a family-style dinner together in the modest kitchen. It was such a great feeling of women from different places coming together. They even connected me to a Facebook group of women walking the Camino called Camigas.

We then headed out into the village and hung out with more Pilgrims.

There is something about doing this shared difficult endeavor together that unifies and crosses cultural and language boundaries. This is hands down one of the most absolutely beautiful and surprising aspects of the Camino that I am appreciating and fully embracing.

Day 8: I had my first what-the-heck-was-I-thinking days. First, I didn’t sleep very well. I was in another 14 bunk room. I woke up at 2 a.m., it was really hot, there were at least 2 loud snorers, and the church bells were chiming every half hour. After a fitful night, I got up a little after 6 a.m., packed up, and joined the Pilgrims downstairs around 7am for the breakfast that was included. Afterwards, I was doing what was now my morning foot regimen: bandaids on my still healing big toes and I wrapped a little toe that was getting sore. Just then a retired Spanish guy named Tomas, who I was chatting with the night before, saw me and asked if I could help him and he showed me 3 places on his feet that were rubbed raw and inflamed. I started to hand him bandaids, but he said he had a bad back and couldn’t reach his feet very well. So I quickly opened up the bandaids and helped him out. He was so sweet and appreciative and happily wished me buen Camino as I headed out.

I started out by myself and was listening to music when I came across a guy in his early 20s moving somewhat slowly. I took off my headphones, greeted him and asked where he was from. He said Poland and that he had hurt his Achilles tendon so was now taking it slow. He radiated such sweetness and had a big smile even though he must have been in a lot of pain. I matched his pace and talked with him a bit and soon Tomas and his friend Jesus caught up to us. I returned to my regular walking pace and for the next 3 hours walked and talked with the Spaniards. We talked about everything from politics, to family, to funny life stories, and they asked how I learned Castellano (Castilian in English, the official term for Spanish spoken in Spain), and I told them about living for a year in Madrid in the 90s. They told me they both lived in Pamplona, were best friends, and their daughters too, and were doing the Camino because both had just retired. I told them I hoped to retire in 8 years when I’m 57 as I’ll have 30 years teaching at my school. Tomas exclaimed, “Me cago en la leche! Tienes 49 años? Pareces mucho más joven!” Translation: “I shit in the milk! You’re 49? You look a lot younger.” I started laughing and told him I had missed Spanish slang which could be quite colorful. I had first heard this phrase when I was visiting a Spanish friend and his family, and his older uncle said this. I was stunned and asked about it later and he said, “Oh I know, my uncle is so corny.” Corny? Pooping in dairy products may be considered a lot of things back home, but corny isn’t one of them. Here is Jesus, me and Tomas.

As we neared the next town, Los Arcos, I was feeling really exhausted. My feet were feeling as sore as they did at the very end of the day before, and I was only 3 hours along. Carrying my big pack was really taking a pounding on my feet. Also, my mouth and tongue felt tired from speaking Spanish, and my brain was tired from listening so attentively to understand everything the guys were saying in their super rapid-fire Spanish. At this point, we caught up with Ivana and Michaela, and I stopped with them in Los Arcos for some much needed food and rehydration and the Spaniards pushed on.

I almost felt too tired to chew, but I finished before the other two women and told them I was carrying on. I knew I needed to walk alone, so I could listen to music or a book to distract me from my increasing tiredness. I’m glad I did because the next stretch was rough.

It had been threatening to rain all day and it was warm and muggy. The walk was pretty flat but there was absolutely no tree cover or shade. Also for the first time, the road stretched out straight ahead for miles and miles and it actually felt like I was making no forward progress and the town in the distance never seemed to get closer. This was my view for much of the second part of the day.

For long stretches of it, I just closed my tired eyes and plodded on. It felt like trudging drudgery. Then there were some sheep.

And then more of this.

The last hour walking felt like 4 hours and I kept asking myself why the heck I was doing this. I missed my cat. I missed my friends. I missed my bed. And here I was in the baking sun, all alone, walking and walking and walking. As I finally neared the next town, I was leaning heavily on my walking stick and saw I had worn the rubber bottom down to the metal.

As I finally got nearer to my albergue in Torres del Rios, it started to sprinkle. I picked up my dragging pace in case it started to full on rain. I arrived a little wet but it at least cooled me off, and for the first time, not only did I get a bed on the floor (the top bunks are so hard to get in and out of especially for a bathroom run in the dark middle of the night), but I also scored the only non bunk bed in the room!

The Camino tortures and then the Camino again provides! Then a bunch of other road weary Pilgrims started to arrive: the really sweet Polish guy, Emma, one of the women I made dinner with the night before, and a really nice South African couple I’d met a few days back. I told them I had my first rough day, and they shared their own aches and pains, and we all laughed about the endless road we walked with the seemingly unreachable horizon. But we had made it and now after a shower and a rest, oddly, I feel ready to do it again tomorrow.

Days 5 & 6

64 miles down, 436 to go! 6 days of walking what would be an hour drive by car. And I need to still walk over 7 times what I have already walked. Hard to wrap my head around that.

Day 5: Pamplona was so much fun that I will definitely be going back there again some day. Day 5 started off a little strangely at 3:30 am. Will and I had gone out and joined the fun. We were right in the center where all the bars were packed and people were spilling out into the streets. We bar hopped to about 6 different places drinking beers, enjoying tapas, and occasionally chatting with Spaniards who had also done the Camino.

We headed back to our hostel around 11 p.m., and nearly all 14 bunks were full of sleeping Pilgrims except there were 3 empty beds in the corner where I saw some young Spanish guys had arrived earlier who didn’t look like Pilgrims (no packs, no quick dry clothing, no hiking shoes), so they were probably in town for the fiestas. Sure enough, they woke me up as they rolled in around 3:30 a.m. It wasn’t a big deal and I needed to go to the bathroom anyway. Since earlier Will and I had also come in late, I had crawled up the ladder and into the top bunk in my clothes, took my jacket and pants off, and slipped into my sleep sack putting my clothes at the foot of the bed. As the young guys were settling into their bunks, I reached down to grab my pants, but they were gone. Jacket still there, pants gone. I couldn’t believe it. Had someone stolen my pants? I had only brought the one pair because with the weight of a pack every ounce counts, so I had no backup pants. The room was dark and everyone was sleeping, so I grabbed my phone and put on the flashlight in search of my pants. About 10 minutes later and now fully awake, I finally located them. They had fallen off the bed and we’re on the ground between the bed and the wall. No need for the pants police. Luckily, I was able to fall back asleep because we had a long walk day ahead of us with a very steep peak in the middle called Alto del Perdón. We had heard the sad news that an American pilgrim had died of a heart attack the day before climbing this peak. News article: https://m.noticiasdenavarra.com/2019/05/03/sociedad/navarra/fallece-un-peregrino-de-un-infarto-a-la-altura-de-zariquiegui

Will was enjoying the Camino so much, that he decided that instead of two days is Madrid before heading home, he’d spend one day there and one more on the Camino. The air was crisp and a bit chilly as we walked out of Pamplona, but the sun was out and we were treated to another day of stunning landscapes.

We reached the top of Alto del Perdón and it was a bit windy.

The walk down from the peak was initially a little treacherous as the path was covered with rocks, but then came some of the most gorgeous scenery I had seen so far. A funny thing about the Camino is sometimes there are lots of people on the trail, and you greet them with a smile or an hola or a buen Camino as you or they pass. And then other times it is quite solitary and it feels like it is just you and nature. As we walked down the hill, it felt like suddenly we were the only ones there. All I could hear were birds and the wind rustling through field after field of vibrant green wheat with rippling waves spreading across them.

Another hour down the road, and we came across Ana, the woman from Uruguay and who now lives in Switzerland who had stayed in our same albergue two nights before. We walked the rest of the way that day, about 2 hours, chatting in Spanish as she didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French. After Ana retired at 65, she did her first Camino walking from Switzerland to Southern France. For this Camino she went back to where she ended before in southern France and started walking from there, so she had been on the road 5 days longer than we had. She spoke softly and told us the names in Spanish of the plants, trees and flowers we passed. Ana is 66 years old, doing these walks by herself, and she’s beat cancer twice. There are some amazing people on this Camino.

We walked through some small villages and during the last hour both Ana and I were dragging. My blisters were fine and actually healing pretty quickly, but the muscles in the top of my thighs and front of my shins were sore. We ended our 6.5 hour walk day with her in the town of Puente la Reina.

It was Will’s last day, so we “splurged” and paid 56 euros ($62 or $31 each) and got our own room in a hotel with 2 beds and a private bathroom. Luxury! The albergues cost anywhere from 5-10 euros (about $6-12 dollars) and often included breakfast. In some places, they offered a communal Pilgrim dinner for about $10-15 dollars (I’ll just translate euros to dollars from here on out)…this was more common in the smaller towns and villages. Will and I did some more sampling of the local drinks and tapas, and stayed up until midnight chatting with some of the locals in the bar next to our hotel. My Spanish was getting a work out.

Day 6: Will left at 7am in a taxi to Pamplona where he was grabbing a bus to Madrid to fly home from there. It was sad saying goodbye, and I promised to do lots of hiking with him when I got back home.

I didn’t need to check out until noon which was quite different from the albergue 8am check out. The average Pilgrim day so far had been get up around 6-6:30am, breakfast around 7am, on the road by 7:30-8am, walk 5-7 hours, shower and rest, 7pm dinner, 9pm sleep. With the late check out, I decided to do a rest day and leave later and just walk a couple of hours to the next village. Since it was a short walk and sunny weather, I decided this would be the first day I’d carry my larger pack. They have a really nice service on the Camino where you can pay about $6-7 dollars and they will take your heavier pack to your next albergue. I used my lighter day pack up and over the Pyrenees and then with the blisters, I gave myself some time to heal. To be honest, carrying the heavy pack is the thing I had most worried about for the Camino. For the past 5 years or so, my hips have been chronically sore. I’ve been to many doctors and specialists and no one has been able to help. I wasn’t sure if carrying the pack day after day would make things worse, but there was one way to find out.

I left at noon starving and forgot that Spaniards typically don’t eat lunch until 2-3pm so everything was closed. I found a little market, grabbed a bag of chips and headed out. I crossed the bridge that gave the town its name and some nice pilgrims took my picture.

I had thought the walk would be flat. It was not. The majority of the walk was a slow burn up hill with no tree cover and it was quite a warm day.

My hip joints did feel tired, but going up the hills I went slow but felt strong. Halfway up one particularly steep hill, I met a woman named Melissa from Mexico living in Florida, and we walked and talked the rest of the way speaking sometimes in English and other times in Spanish.

The landscape was dryer and there were lots of vineyards.

I am now in a mountain town (hence all the hills) called Cirauqui.

I’ve again signed on for the Pilgrim dinner which apparently is in a really cool cave. Now that I’m solo, time to go make some friends :).

Days 3 & 4:

Blisters! 42 miles, 458 to go and I now have blisters on the outside of both my big toes. Boo. I was really hoping to avoid them but there has been a lot of up and down hill walking the past 2 days, but I think it’s really the steeper downhill that is doing it. Today my front shin muscles have been aching too, but I’m still really loving the walk.

Day 3: We left the little village of Espinal, Spain in the morning and walked through some beautiful rural countryside, a side of Spain I had never experienced living in Madrid. It was also starting to drizzle as we left our albergue.

It rained lightly off and on all day causing us to strip off our rain gear only to put it back on further down the road. We also definitely needed to be more cautious going down some of the slicker downhill spots. But the weather didn’t seem to dampen people’s moods. There were many bright smiles and the shared salutation of “buen Camino” all along the way.

On this day there were many Pilgrims on the path, but not bunched together as everyone walks at different paces. There was a trio of Frenchmen who we first heard before seeing on day 1 as they came up behind us in a rapid clatter of tapping hiking poles. They went zipping past, all of them moving together in almost military precision. On day 3, we heard them again before we saw them. I said to Will, I can hear team France coming our way. Later we passed them as it appeared they were doing their Camino in power bursts. The next time they went clicking past us Will said, “There goes Napoleon’s revenge.” This made me laugh but also think about my own pace so I asked Will, who has run 10 marathons, hikes, bikes, and is generally very active, if my pace was ok. Maybe he wanted to power walk the Camino and I was holding him back. He said that he was walking exactly as fast as he wanted to walk. I was relieved that our paces matched and I’d say we are a little faster than the average except he scampers up the hills a bit quicker, and he has no soreness or blisters not to mention he’s carrying a much heavier pack than I am.

Towards the end of day 3, I was starting to feel depleted. We stopped for a much needed rest and lunch in a town called Zubiri, but we had booked in a little village called Urdániz another hour further. We had some paella and then I went outside to check my sore toes which is when I discovered the blisters. Right then, it started pouring rain. I’ll admit it, for a second I looked around the town square for a taxi. As I was feeling pretty dejected, an American couple came along and the man saw I was inspecting my blisters and he went into his pack to give me some amazing gel plasters that made so much difference. With a “buen Camino” he was off and I’m not kidding, the pouring rain stopped. There’s a phrase they use on this walk, “the Camino provides” and boy did it. The next hour walk went quickly and at our next albergue, I was able to pay forward some of that Camino kindness.

In Urdániz, we stayed at a small family-run albergue with 2 rooms and 10 beds. In our room was a couple in their late 20s, she was from Rio de Janeiro and he was from upstate New York. I told her I had just been to Rio in February and we got to chatting. She told me that she liked to do graphic design and was writing and illustrating a children’s book she was about to self-publish. She said it was in Portuguese and she had also translated it into Spanish and a friend translated it into English for her. I told her I was an English teacher, and if she wanted any help from me, I’d be happy to take a look at it. She got very excited, grabbed her phone, and started showing me the beautiful images from her book called The Shell Collector. I started to read the English version, and I could quickly see that her friend had probably just used Google Translate and that the English needed some work. So I sat down with her and for the next two hours we worked on re-crafting the language together. Here is John, Raquel, and me:

When we finished, everyone was gathering in the dining room and our Colombian host, he had married a Spanish woman and bought this albergue which was also their home, had prepared us a delicious meal. 10 of us sat down to dinner: a German man, a woman from Uruguay who now lives in Switzerland, a Cuban man who lives in Florida, the couple I mentioned, me, Will, and more Brazilians: a family with a daughter and her father and aunt walking together. There wasn’t one shared language in the room and yet we had a lively dinner conversation with some of us translating for others. After dinner and after everyone went to bed, Will and I stayed up with our Colombian host, who didn’t speak any English, and drank beers with him and chatted for another couple hours.

Day 4: I wrapped my toes, and we walked 5. 5 hours to Pamplona. The first four hours were through beautiful countryside and Will and I walked most of the day by ourselves, except for about a half an hour when we walked with the Brazilian family. Luckily they spoke Spanish and Will speaks a little Portuguese. And we walked for another half hour with a really nice couple from Arizona who we met on our first day walking and had run into every day since.

In the last hour as we got closer to Pamplona, it was a little disconcerting to see cars again and to wait at traffic lights. We arrived at our albergue in the center of Pamplona in front of an enormous and beautiful cathedral. We dropped our packs off and went in search of food and ran into a a street procession, and a plaza full of people drinking, eating and dancing to live music in the streets! After 4 days of walking through The countryside, it was surreal.

After eating, we headed back to the albergue to shower and the Brazilian woman I helped with her book and her boyfriend John were also staying there. Will went back out as I sat down to write this blog and he said the party outside was still going strong and he just heard a brass band playing YMCA by the Village People. So I’m signing off for now to join the fun. Tomorrow is Will’s last day before he flies home. It will be so strange to be here alone and I don’t know how I feel about it yet. Well, hopefully the Camino will provide 🙂