·        Monday, 1 June 2009


Bag-rustlers and inconsiderate people with loud voices once again destroyed the tranquility of the morning, my last morning in an alburgue.  (If I had do-overs I would spend a few nights in hotels!  It is physically and psychologically demanding to sleep among strangers and have no privacy or control over so many parts of one’s life…character building, yes – fun, no!) 


I dragged my bag and trekked over to the commercial district across town and found a cozy bar to breakfast on toast and café con leche.  I window shopped till 1000 when stores opened.  I found a huge bookstore with lots of books in English. (Follas Novas, Calle Montero Rios, 37 – 981.594.406…it is near the park where the ferris wheel dominates the horizon)


I looked at summer clothes but just couldn’t see myself in any of them – I really needed a complete make-over before I could transform from into any kind of butterfly.  I found an internet café and spent an hour online and then wandered through the old Mercado – like a farmer’s market and filled with wonderful produce.   I whiled away some time sitting in the shade reading a novel I purchased earlier.  It was hot and humid already so I decided to walk to the bus station before siesta.  I stopped enroute and had a sharuma at a Kazakhi restaurant.


I sat in the station café sipping café con leches and reading and sweating.  I still have 3 ½ hours to wait.  There is no A/C and there are no fans.  I am restless, tired, bored and sweaty.


I consider moving to another table – I cannot avoid hearing the conversation going on between two people who seem to be negotiating a romantic liaison.  He is a slim Italian and she is a hefty, plain-faced English-speaking woman.  He holds her hand.  I can hear their conversation but pretend not to.  I do not move.  I stare at the pages of the book in my hand.  From the corner of my eye, I see body language that supports my original hypothesis – a rendezvous in the making.  She is 40-ish, a bit plump with short, dishwater hair and unflattering glasses.  They seem ill-matched.  He knows little English – the conversation is hard work for him.  He is not attractive, but seems so because of his attentive manner and his ability to appear sincere as he spews out flattering phrases. 


After 30 minutes and two beers each, they depart together.  I think they sealed a deal.


I wander out into the main station.  A group of Latter Day Saints are there – ten young, clean-cut boys from the USA, spit-polished and wearing white shirts and ties.  I engage them in conversation.  We have a wonderful discussion about spirituality, service-before-self, life in foreign countries and all sorts of variations on the theme.  They were quite interested in my Camino tales and my Peace Corps stories too. 


Shortly after sunset, I boarded the bus for Madrid.  I will arrive at Baraja airport in the morning, in time to catch my flight back to the USA. 


I am ready to go home.  I am ready to heal.  I am ready to process all that has happened these past 6 weeks.  I am ready to resume life.  I am ready to see if the Camino to Santiago is the end of an adventure or just the beginning of the real adventure.


·        Sunday, 31 May 2009


At 0830, I was out of the albuergue.  It was good to “sleep-in” – six weeks of rising at 0530 +/- and daily walks of 20+ kilometers made me stronger, but I was glad to linger a bit this morning. 


I walked a few miles to the bus station to get my tickets for Monday departure. I could have taken a cab, but it didn’t occur to me.  What’s a few more miles after a 500 mile walk?  I should have taken a cab.  I really was exhausted and my leg was aching. 


Ticket in hand, I headed back to the cathedral and stopped at the pilgrim office to see who had arrived.  I attended pilgrim mass again.  Robert was there.  We toured the cathedral and then spent most of the day wandering around the city talking and snacking.  We drank lots of café con leche and sipped good red wine and just talked. I helped him buy souvenirs for his nephews.  Robert will walk to the airport tomorrow. 


He walked to the airport in Amsterdam at the start of his Camino and will walk to the airport at the end.


I said my goodbyes to my friend and went back to my albergue.  I was asleep before the sun set.  So much for celebrating.  I felt old and tired.


·        Saturday, 30 May 2009

Monte do Gozo -> Santiago de Compostela = 3K (I arrive!)

It is the dark of night.  From my bed by the window in the albergue at Monte de Gozo, I see pilgrims walking past all night long.  Like horses nearing home these pilgrims seem to chomp at the bit and rush to arrive at the cathedral. 


I do not sleep well.  At dawn, I grab my things and go to the common area to pack up. 


I see many familiar faces and exchange hugs and some farewells from those who have been here a few days.  Already there is a bitter-sweetness in the air.  We are all about to end an adventure.  (Or is it really just the beginning of a bigger adventure as many people seem to think?) 


I walk alone on this cool, crisp morning.  It is Saturday so there is not much traffic.  The streets are empty. 


I arrive in Santiago and stand gazing up at the cathedral by 0800 – I have the huge plaza to myself.  It is a lovely moment, though honestly the moments leading up to it did not seem to set the proper tone. Somehow, I managed to lose the trail when I was just a few blocks from the cathedral.  After 500 miles of following the little yellow arrows over through all kinds of terrain and weather, I felt pretty foolish losing my way just footsteps from my destination.  Another opportunity to feel humble.  8-)


Then, just as I was about to round the corner to the plaza, I managed to walk right into the path of the spray as the huge street cleaner completed its circuit of the plaza.  I almost cried and then quickly chose to laugh.  And then I laughed hard. 


So, I stand in front of the amazing cathedral, alone in the middle of the enormous plaza.  The cobblestones glitter with the morning sun catching the water drops and making them look like diamonds.  I stood there, awed by the cathedral and totally forgot about my wet clothes and my aching leg and all the pther petty details that could have ruined the moment.


Following my private moment in the square, I found my way to the pilgrim office.  Standing there, smoking in the morning sun, was Robert (the “Flying Dutchman”).  I grinned like a kid.  We went for coffee and waited for the office to open.


Standing in line at the pilgrim office was a delight.  The line wound up three flights of stairs.  Pilgrims coming out stopped frequently to hug people or to talk to pilgrims they never expected to see again.  It was like a school reunion.  Outside the building many pilgrims who arrived days ago, lingered outside to inquire about other pilgrims. 


With my official credential in hand, I headed over to the cathedral to attend pilgrim mass.  I stood in the back.  The cathedral was filled with tourists and pilgrims.  Pilgrims were acknowledged by country.  Many people wept.  The huge incense burner swung across the front of the cathedral.  I observed the disembodied arms of pilgrims hugging the Statue of St James high above and behind the priest at the front of the church.


Following mass, I realized just how exhausted I really was.  My left leg was still swollen and painful.  I had to find accommodations for the next two days, I needed to call my spouse, get bus tickets to Madrid, etc.  It was hot and I suddenly felt alone.  I should have checked into a nearby hotel, taken a shower, and simply relaxed and recuperated in a private room, but instead I walked to an albergue across town.  It was a monastery on a hill and the sleeping room was a big open-bay. 


Instead of celebrating, I simply laid down, elevated my leg and went to sleep among the snoring and grunting of 50 strangers.


I felt a little let down…like post-partum blues I guess.  I did not expect to be so tired.



·        Friday, 29 May 2009

Arco de Pino -> Monte do Gozo = 16K (3K more and I will be in Santiago for Pilgrim Mass!)


The sweet smell of eucalyptus and the shaded walk make the 10 kilometer walk very pleasant despite the fact I have yet to get my morning coffee and toast.  I am grateful for the shade, because the day is already humid and hot, though it is not yet 0900.


As I walk, I consider my plans.  I will stop at Monte de Gonzo, just 3 kilometers short of my ultimate destination.  Then I may take the bus into the suburbs of Santiago (leaving my pack at the albergue).  I can shop for a skirt, a razor and real shampoo.  I can also get a camera, since I can’t make mine work. (I am sad that I have no photos of the last half of the trip.)  I will take the bus back to the albergue and get cleaned up for my final entrance, on foot, into Santiago.   


It seems amazing to me that I will be at the pilgrim office near the cathedral tomorrow morning – I will be there when they open.  The past 6 weeks seem like a dream sequence if a movie.  


And then, I will go to pilgrim mass. 


I was in the cathedral at Santiago decades ago (in the 1970’s) and that is when the seeds for my present adventure were planted.  It was during the Generalissimo Franco-era and I found myself unexpectedly living in Spain.  I read James Michener’s book “Iberia” and it became my guidebook and my window on the culture. On my visit to the cathedral, like tourists and pilgrims for centuries before me, I placed my hand on the famed statue just inside the entrance.  A feeling coursed through me, almost a visceral experience.  I knew in that moment, that somehow, someday, I would return to this spot as a real pilgrim. 


As I walked along, I continued to consider what else may happen in Santiago.  I looked forward to seeing familiar faces of pilgrims I had met on the Camino.  At the end of the Camino, pilgrims tend to linger in Santiago.  Many continue on to the end of the earth (Finistiere - sp?) and return to Santiago a few days later. So the opportunity to see friends and acquaintances is huge. 


I considered just what I would do with the prayer ribbons I carried attached to my walking stick for all those kilometers.  Each ribbon represents wishes from a friend and as I walked along, I frequently prayed for these people (and others).  I want to make a suitable ceremony for them.  I want to light candles.  I am not a Catholic, so as I walked along, I pondered on that a bit too – rituals and symbols are not really part of who I am and how I live my life.  But in the past few years I find myself surrounded by them.  Much to think about as I walk under the Eucalyptus trees, breathing in the perfumes they share with those who walk these paths.


There are bus tickets to acquire, a book for the bus and plane ride home and there are postcards to send…my brain has jumped ahead and now I suddenly realize I am living in the future instead of staying in the now!  The proximity to Santiago seems to have that effect.  After weeks of walking and living in the now, the old pre-Camino habits are starting to sneak back into my life.  Already.   Sigh. 



I am sitting in the shade of building 29 of the 800 bed, Monte de Gozo albergue (which actually has only SOME beds designated for pilgrims – the rest is a hotel of sorts).  There are 30 buildings.  The pilgrim reception does not open until 1300.  So here I sit, penning my journal and waiting again. 


There are many hours spent waiting on the Camino; just part of the many free lessons in humility, meekness, patience and gratitude the Camino experience offers attentive students.


I initially walked past (I should say limped past!) the reception office to the far end of the complex.  I was mis-directed by a less than helpful German woman.  When I entered the lobby, I was rather un-graciously directed to leave.  This area is designated for hotel patrons only.  The reception area for pilgrims was back at the other end of the complex where I had originally started. 


I trekked back up the hill (still nursing a shin-splint and a blister).


There are people from all over the world on the Camino.  I am convinced that without much effort, one could make the entire walk without actually meeting a Spaniard or speaking Spanish.  Many people travel in “packs” and rarely speak to anyone who is not part of their clique.  This seems more true the closer I get to Santiago. 


Perhaps because there are so many people on the path who are only walking the requisite 100 kilometers haven’t gone through all the storming and norming experiences that forged bonds among the pilgrims who have logged over 700 kilometers at this point.  The pilgrims who join the path after Sarria seem distant. They are fixated on their goal somehow and seem to be uninterested in the other pilgrims.   


Many pilgrims walk past as I sit here writing.  Santiago is only a few kilometers away and they are eager to get there.  They also look at the albergue and find the appearance off-putting.  The 30 buildings look a bit Spartan.  I see many old walking companions and greet them warmly.  I am resolute about waiting till tomorrow to make my entrance into Santiago.


This morning I walked through Lavacolla.  The name translates as “wash the loins.”  Historically pilgrims stopped there to bathe in the stream before making the last approach to their destination: the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. 


After their bath, pilgrims would race up Monte de Goza (Mount of Joy) n a version of the child’s game of King of the Hill.  From Monte de Goza pilgrims can see the spires of the cathedral.  Atop the hill is a large monument to Pope Pius (sp?).


I check into the albergue (3E for the night) and find the facilities to be quite pleasant.  The shower is hot and I have only 2 roommates. I discover one can stay at this albergue for 3 days.  Many pilgrims walk into Santiago and get their credentials and then take the bus back at night.  The alburgues in the city are pricier. 


I wash my clothes and walk back to the village to dine on the pilgrim menu with the delightful pilgrim from New Zealand.


I abandon my plans to bus into town to shop.  My ankle/foot is swollen and my shin aches.  I will walk into the city in the early morning – I want to be at the cathedral before the crowds.


I have mixed feelings knowing I will soon be on an airplane heading back to the USA.  I will miss this crazy life and the friends I have made on this odd journey.


I watch the sunset on the distant cathedral spires…tomorrow I will no longer be a pilgrim.  Or will I?



·        Thursday, 28 May 2009

Ribadosoa -> Arco do Pino = 23K  (Only 19K to go – I may be in Santiago tomorrow!)


Summer has arrived.  It is hot!   It’s hard to believe this 6 week adventure began with April snows in the forecast at Roncesvalles.  Now in late May, sweat drips down my nose and onto my shirt.


My walking companions today (three guys from Germany) didn’t speak much so it was like walking alone.  We maintained the same pace and stopped for café con leche and conversation along the way.   I enjoy the steep climbs and sing even on the goat-like climbs.  I feel fit.  I am grateful for this – I consider what I went through recovering from surgeries back in 2005. 


As I walk, so many things fly through my head.  I wish I had stopped to write them down.  Throughout this adventure, I have failed to stop and write.  I have waited till days-end and then merely jotted down the bare bones of the trip and rarely any of the insights and lessons I have learned.  At days-end, I am tired and forgetful. 


I check into the albergue when it opens at 1300.  When I arrived, backpacks were already lined up outside the door, designating the order of arrival.  The sweaty pilgrims sat, shoes off, waiting to check in.  I was among the first.


The hospitaleros give me a disposable sheet for my bottom bunk.  There is a luxury here: a reading lamp built in the wall.  I wish I had a book to read.


Once checked in, I cleaned up a bit.  I have made-do on this trip; using bandanas as towels …cutting corners to keep the weight down.  It will be so great to have real towels, nice clothes, cosmetics, shampoo & conditioner, curls, etc.  It feels good to wash away all the mud.  I apply some lip gloss, comb my hair (I’ve been washing my long locks with Castile soap!) and don my alternate walking clothes. I head out to find lunch.


I run into two old friends: the Flying Dutchman and the woman from New Zealand.  We sit at an outdoor café and while away the hot, afternoon, siesta-hours, hoping for a breeze.  It is hot and the humidity is much higher than it has been.  I am so grateful I am not walking in the real heat of summer.  We nurse our wine and talk about life, baring our souls in the way one does with a stranger.


At 1700, the stores open and I spend some time looking, but do not buy.  I do not want anything enough to carry it, but I am drawn to all the little luxuries (scarves, cosmetics, cologne) like a kid in a candy store.  I feel like a street person.  I feel like a poor person.   I leave the shops and walk a bit more.


These afternoons of just hanging out are difficult.  There are days one cannot walk further because of the distances and days when the body will not permit it…and there is always the worry of finding a bed at an albergue.  Language barriers, customs and culture and feelings of isolation can weigh heavy at times.  People who walk with others may not feel this so much.


I wander into a supermercado (grocery store) and ponder what to eat for dinner.  At 1930 there are pilgrim menus available at local restaurants (9 Euro) but I do not have the energy to go through the motions of dining alone in a restaurant.  I buy some meat, bread, a piece of fruit and some wine and go back to the albergue.


The Asians who walk the Camino like to cook their own meals so as I walk in, the smells drift out to me.  I enjoy watching them cook and share with one another.  If my spouse were here, I am sure he would be cooking us a lovely meal, but I am not so inclined.  On this trip, I frequently settle for yogurt or a sandwich or I stop in a bar for a racion of calamares or tortilla.  I am not much of a “foodie”.


The sun beats down on the albergue.  This is better than rain, I guess.  I cannot imagine what walking in the summer months would be like.  The alburgues would be like ovens.  My sleeping bag and silk sack need airing and/or cleaning.  I frequently sleep on top of my sleeping bag and use the silk bag as a modesty cover.  Earlier in the trip, the sleeping bag was well used.    


With only 19K to go, many pilgrims will end their pilgrimage in Santiago tomorrow.  I plan to wend my way through the eucalyptus forest and stop just 4K outside town at the huge Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy) albergue (the facility has 800 beds!).  I want to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago in the cool, early morning hours on Saturday, before the city is fully awake and before the sun becomes my enemy.  I also want to have the plaza fronting the cathedral to myself for a few precious moments.  


I climb into bed early.  I notice that two of my roommates have already gone.  They slept away the afternoon and now are gone.  Will they walk all night?  I wonder. 


I lay awake on my bunk listening to the sounds of 50 people settling in for the night.  We are like cattle or chickens roosting.  Each pilgrim has an evening routine or ritual.  Many write under the glow from headlamps or flashlights.  The man I dubbed “the Sea Lion” is among the 50 pilgrims – he has sleep apnea and snores in a frightening way.  I have shared quarters with him several nights in the recent past.  Many pilgrims swear by ear plugs.  


I consider who among these pilgrims will be guilty of bag-rustling and noise in the wee, early morning hours.  Can their evening behavior be a predictor of their morning routine?  


The pilgrims who smoke emanate the odor of tobacco and smoke.


In only a few days, my albergue nights will be history.  Living so closely among strangers has been an experience.  Human behavior is frequently surprising, sometimes disappointing and inconvenient, but there are times when it is comforting. 


It is time for this pilgrim to call it a night.  


·        Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Palas de Rei -> Ribadaiso = 27K (40.7K to Santiago)


The sky is blue.  There is a fine breeze.  I have showered, washed my hair and my clothes and it is already dry.  I spent an hour online.  I sat on the riverbank and chatted with a Frenchman whom I have seen frequently on my pilgrimage.  Now I am soaking up sun, sitting by the river and watching the nearby cattle.  Many pilgrims are stretched out on the lush grass, sunning, chatting, relaxing.   This rural albergue is a delightful place to stay. The atmosphere and facilities make me think of summer camp. 


I had a hard time getting started this morning.  Snoring (like sea lions fighting!) and farting were issues.  I was up at 0700 and gone by 0715.  My plan was for a shorter walk actually.  I had hoped to stay in Melide tonight.  The city is renowned for its octopus (pulpo) and I wanted to have a leisurely evening meal of it.  I also wanted to shop for some clothes to wear to the Pilgrim mass when I arrive in Santiago.  (I’ve worn the same clothes almost every day and they are worn, faded, and make me feel like a street person when I am in an urban setting.)  Unfortunately the albergue there was closed.  So, I had to continue on.


My left calf smarts with every step so the rest of the walk was painful. 



As I watch the sun set, many pilgrims have adjourned to a local bar to watch an important soccer event (Manchester versus Barcelona).  I enjoy the sweet evening air.  The quiet is punctuated with frequent cheers from the soccer fans huddled around the TV set.  Barcelona wins, there are fireworks outside.


I have enjoyed my stay at this albergue. 


Things I saw as I walked today:

o       Tall, narrow drying sheds – What are they?

o       Pilgrims walking back from Santiago – an older woman and her dog.

o       Villagers who made wish I could simply trade lives with them – stay put and befriend passers-by.

o       Lots of comments (envious and/or impressed) on my small pack…I’m grateful for my tiny load.

o       Cows coming home along the river banks

o       Fish leaping from the water at sunset.




·        Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Portomarin -> Palas de Rei = 26K (Only 66K to go – Wow!)

I was out of the albergue at 0715 and walked till about 0900 before I found a place to stop for breakfast.  I was disappointed there was no toast available.  Small disappointments seem big sometimes.  I really love my morning toast.


I walked through eucalyptus trees today.  The perfume intoxicates me.


I stopped at the municipal albergue (3E) in Palas de Rei about 1300.  The private albergue up the street was already full, so I consider myself fortunate to have my daily bread here.  (Private albergues will often take phone reservations and many pilgrims call ahead.)  


The municipal albergue has a sign on the door saying it will be closed to pilgrims the next few days.  I wonder if there is a local holiday.  Or could it be for an annual cleaning (purging for bedbugs) before the actual tourist season begins on 1 June?    


This albergue is really Spartan.  I share the room with about ten people, mostly men, and the shower arrangements are not good (no privacy).  I decide to forgo my shower.  I spend most of the afternoon sitting on a park bench (my leg hurts so walking is out) soaking up the spring sun. 


A couple of pilgrims walk past with their two young daughters.  The children look to be about 7 and 9.  I am not sure where their Camino began actually, but I am impressed by the parent’s patience and good nature as they juggle the logistics.  Just walking the Camino is no easy task.


I have heard these young girls have learned to deal with some of the attention they receive, by saying “You can take our photo if you buy us an ice cream!”  A little scary actually!


Other Camino gossip:  The Prime Minister of Ireland recently walked the Camino along with a large group of friends.  Bruce Springsteen will walk the Camino in August (2009 or 2010?).  One of the women who runs the Pilgrim office in Santiago is getting married this weekend in Santiago.  Pilgrims are invited to attend.


·        Monday, 25 May 2009

Portomarin -> Portomarin = Zero K (Still 90K to go!)


“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”


It is cold and rainy.  My left shin feels stiff, sore and is swollen.  I dress and put on my pack, hoping I can walk off the pain and make a short day (15K), but as I stride up the hill, through the cold rain, I realize I need to take a day off.  I run into the Canadian who is suffering from blister issues and accompany him to the local medical facility to help with language challenges.   (He speaks no Spanish.)


So here I am back at the albergue, sipping espresso from the vending machine while the staff mops floors around me.  Outside, fog has rolled in – the lake view is almost obscured. 


A little about the lake: the Belesar Reservoir is a manmade lake. Portomorin was nestled in a valley and was completely submerged when the reservoir was built.  The old St Nickolas Church was moved, block by block to the top of the hill where it looks down on the lake.  All the other buildings in town are only a few decades old.  Fish swim in and out of the empty homes submerged in the vast lake.


The damp, chilly weather makes me miss my fleece.  I left it behind somewhere and really haven’t missed it until now.  When I am walking I keep warm enough most days. 


Around 1300 I ventured out to find some groceries.  I have the kitchen to myself essentially.  I came home with a large ripe tomato, a bag of cheese tortellini and some wine.  I also splurged on a novel to read during the rainy afternoon.  (There were about 5 titles to choose from so the book was eminently forgettable.) 


As I was preparing my simple repast, the Canadian appeared and joined me for lunch.  He contributed a loaf of bread and conversation.  He also washed the dishes.  Outside the miserable rain continued. 


After lunch, I showered and crawled into my upper bunk to read and nap the rainy afternoon away.


The extra day was necessary, but I was sorry to fall behind my familiar companions.  I wonder who will be in Santiago when I finally arrive? 



·        Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sarria -> Portomarin = 26K  (Under 100K now: just 90.4K to go!)

I was up about 0600 – too much snoring and snorting in the room.  With only 5 roommates I thought it might be quieter. 


I walked across Sarria, where King Alfonso IX lost his life on his way to Compostela.  He founded the city and gave it his name and then ended up dying there.  I did not linger there, but stopped for an al fresco breakfast at the top of the stair steps on the pilgrim route.  I ran into “Herr Gummischuhe” there and at the next coffee stop S. (the Irish woman) and J. (a German woman) joined us for the rest of our day’s walk.


The day was damp and rainy and we moved along quickly.  The pilgrims who only walk 100K are pretty obvious.  They are so clean and many of them seem rather humorless and sober.  Those of us with hundreds of kilometers under our belts are getting almost giddy with delight: less than 100K to go!  It seems like nothing.  We laugh and joke and draw ugly looks from some of the pilgrims who just began the walk.


One 100K pilgrim singled me out.  “Wow, you have a tan,” he says in a dear Irish accent.  “You are a real pilgrim!  Can I take your photo?”  So our motley crew posed for a photo.  We encounter many Irish pilgrims.  They invariably comment, “Galicia looks is just like Ireland, only the mountains are smaller in Ireland.”


My left leg gives me pain.  It is quite uncomfortable, perhaps from the long, swift walk yesterday.  I struggle to keep walking.  When we stop I realize my ankle is swollen and my SmartWool socks are constricting my leg.  I fold the socks down to relieve some of the pressure and continue walking.


We arrive in Portomarin and check into the albergue.  S discovers she has left her pilgrim credential at the albergue in Sarria.  While she and my other companions make phone calls and take care of that situation, I collapse in a chair and peel off my left sock.  My ankle is quite swollen. 


The albergue at Portomarin has the look of a large hospital ward – bays of bunk beds with every four rows flanked with white privacy curtains.  It is a huge facility with hundreds of beds.  There is a wonderful view of the lake below and there is a pleasant place to dine next door. 


I head over to the restaurant with J. and several other pilgrims join us, including my Canadian buddy (whom I first met at the scary albergue in Rabe) and the young Priest from Indiana and the Danish woman who lives in Spain and a few other familiar faces.  The place is filled with pilgrim faces I recognize.


I call it a night rather early, hoping my leg will be back to normal tomorrow.  I hope the cold rain will blow over.



·        Saturday, 23 May 2009

Fonfria -> Sarria (via Samos!) = 35K (Only 115K and I will be in Santiago!)


Despite the steep descent and the extra kilometers I logged on my unintentional detour through Samos, my feet are happy; the band aids are gone and no blisters remain!


The albergue I am so grateful to be in, is most pleasant.  I am curled up on a couch near the fireplace in the common room, listening to new-age music and sipping tea.  An exuberant kitten is playing hide and seek on the adjacent couch. (There are 8 more cats on the premises.)


Outside, thunder rumbles and a deluge of rain falls.  I am glad to be warm and cozy here indoors.  I arrived before the rain began.  It would be difficult to walk in such a storm.


The days’ walk was lovely for the most part, but longer than I intended.  At Tricastela there were two paths and somehow I took the longer route via Samos.  The reward for the longer walk was the chance to see a fine 6th century Benedictine monastery with the beautiful renaissance courtyard. 


Over coffee in Samos, another pilgrim tells me that I am now in the 11th stage of the Codex Calixtinus.  Aymeric Picaud wrote this ancient book detailing the challenges and hardships of the pilgrimage to Santiago. Many pilgrims still use it as a guide.


The last 15K from Samos to Sarria is rural and mostly on a sealed road lined with chestnut trees and oaks.  The villages seem deserted except for the large dogs (they resemble German Shepherds) who greet me as I enter each community.  They wag their tails, but are a bit wary of strangers. 


As I walked through the woods, I ran across the “Gypsy Boy” today (the brother of the delightful French woman who is travelling with her almost-4 year old son).  He had a small encampment in the woods and was cooking a lovely lunch of bacon-wrapped meat and some vegetables over hot coals in a small fire pit he had dug beneath a tree.  His look is somehow timeless and seeing him in the forest, bent over his cooking, he resembles an old painting depicting life in another century.  The image is strong.


Later I see the “Gypsy Boy’s” sister and her blue-eyed boy as they pass the albergue where I am spending the night.  The youngster is lured in by the chickens on the lawn.  He chases after them, laughing.  It is a delightful scene until the rooster, thinking his hens are in danger, attacks the child.  That is the end of the fun, at least for a little while.  (The documentary film crew materialized and got this adventure on film!  I have not seen them since Logrono!)


As I write, the evening meal is being prepared.  The smells are inviting.  I suspect there will be a tortilla Espanol (a potato omlette) and Caldo Gallego (regional soup).  This will be a nice change from the frequent offerings lentejas (lentils) which most albergues prepare for the pilgrim meal.


This is a private albergue, run by two generations of a family.  It is a new building and is well designed and the hosts are kind and warm people.  After 32 nights in a different bed every night, I have some opinions on how to run an albergue! 


Tomorrow the 100K pilgrims will begin to appear.  I have about 600K under my belt now – 100K does not seem like much.  But, I am not eager for it to end just yet. 


·        Friday, 22 May 2009

Vega de Valcarce -> Fonfria = 25K (Just 140.7K more!)

Entering the village, a crowd of lovely, velvet-eyed, brown cows crowd me to the side of the “Main Street.”  A handsome shepherd dog eyes me for a moment, sizing me up, and then passes behind me, managing his bovine charges effectively and efficiently.  The shepherd smiles.


Outside the albergue door, a beautiful, large, grey stallion is systematically eliminating the tall grass.  I can hear a rooster crowing nearby and I see dogs playing across the dusty street.


“This is where I will spend the night,” I decide.   


From inside the albergue, loud music pours out and as I enter the door I see the hospitalera dancing behind the bar as she makes a cup of café con leche.     


So here I am relaxing over a café con leche; over the mountain after a remarkable walk which, at intervals, felt like a scene out of a Disney film.  Galicia is more like Ireland than what one may think of as Spain.  But of course, Galicia is part of Spain.  It is very clear that it was influenced by the Celts. 


I climbed the mountain in the early hours arriving in Galicia as the sun came over the peaks and kissed the green, green mountainside.  It is almost surreal.


Early in the day I walked through La Faba, where I stopped to catch my breath.  This village would have been a lovely place to spend a night.  (There is a German or possibly Dutch run albergue that feeds pilgrims from their organic garden)


I linger a bit, playing with a pair of delightful stray kittens who wrestle one another, fighting over a grease-soaked loaf of bread and a few pieces of chorizo I share with them.  I resume walking.


The enchanting villages I walk through today smell of cattle and are perched on hillsides so steep the cows must have 2 long legs and 2 shorter legs in order to graze on the hillsides.  The path is littered with cow manure.


When I arrive in O’Cebreiro at the peak of the mountain, fog engulfs the 9 ancient, round, stone, thatch-roofed structures (pallozas) that comprise (most of) the village.  The fog adds to the mystical quality of the place.  Words like amazing, haunting come to mind.  I can almost believe the local legend; the 14th Century miracle about the wine and bread turning into blood and the flesh of Christ. 


Once again, I wish I could stay a day or two and simply soak up the ambience of this special place.   But, I am a pilgrim and I cannot tarry…pilgrims are meant to walk.  As I walk, I find myself wondering is J.R Tolkien ever visited the region.  It could have been the inspiration for his Hobbit-world.


.  I had been anxiously anticipating the challenging climb, one of the most challenging on the entire Camino.  Like many things in life, the climb was somewhat anti-climactic.  Many pilgrims elect to taxi or bus their way over the mountain.  Others send their backpacks ahead so they can walk more easily.  I did neither.  I chose to walk with my backpack and found that I was exhilarated by the steep climb.  My joy and excitement fuel my energy and I walk on beyond my original destination. 


So here I am in the charming albergue in Fonfria.  I have had a delicious hot shower (in a private bathroom) and I washed my long hair with borrowed shampoo.  I am sitting in a sunny courtyard letting my hair dry in the breeze and sipping sidra (apple cider) with a group of fellow pilgrims.  There is lots of laughter and conversation (despite language barriers). The German man with the cowboy hat (I dubbed him “Herr Gummi-schuhe”) is so funny.  My Irish friend (S.) and the Danish woman who lives in Spain, my friend from Finland, the delightful woman from New Zealand and many other pilgrims while away the late afternoon together. 


It is hard to imagine that my pilgrimage will soon come to an end.  I push that thought aside and stay in the happy present. 


·        Thursday, 21 May 2009

Cacabelos -> Vega de Valcarce = 25K (163.6K remaining on the Way to Santiago!)

When I slipped away from the albergue at Cacabelos at 0630, the over-flow crowds on mattresses outdoors were still sleeping.   I walked up and down 2 hills (about 8K) before a fine breakfast stop in Villafranco Bierzo.  What a wonderful community.  If I had “do-overs,” I would have spent my night here instead of in Cacabelos.


Pilgrims who suffer from ailments and illness can walk through the Puerta del Perdon (door of pardon) on the north side of the Santiago church that perches above Villafranco Bierzo.  Those pilgrims too ill to go on will receive the same indulgences as pilgrims who reach Compostela.  The town is beautiful in the crisp bright morning sun.


The next 30K are the most physically challenging of the Camino.  The total assent is 1280 meters. 


As I walk along the Camino, my mind skips along.  Movies and books and songs, memories, dreams all fill my head.  I make a mental list of things that make me happy:

·        Rose Arbors, Potted Geraniums, Wild Flowers and Flowerboxes

·        Cats (Orange cats especially) and Dogs

·        Cows and Sheep

·        Parakeets and Chickens

·        Blue Doors, French Doors and Split Doors (Dutch Doors)

·        Rustic Benches

·        Books, Films and Music

·        Toast (With Butter & Orange Marmalade)

·        Hot Showers

·        Hammocks


I visualize different lives: should we go back to our cozy bungalow in SC or try a new adventure (a B&B in Malawi?) or maybe life in Minneapolis, Saint Louis or Albuquerque.  Should we just stay in Santa Fe? 


I walk and think.  I weep when I am happy – my heart breaks open and all the joy spills out.  I remember a quote from William Blake (I don’t remember the context): “…Excess of sorrow laughs, excess of joy weeps…”  In m mind I hear my mother quoting someone (Frost?) about living by the side of the road and being a friend to all mankind.


I am happy.


My camera has fresh batteries, but now the memory card is full.  So, again I have no opportunity to take photos of the beautiful scenery I travel through.  Some images I wish I could have captured include:

·        A German Shepherd dog and its’ small friend on a tiny 2nd floor terrace eyeing pilgrims walking by.  

·        Grey stone buildings with slate roofs and rustic wood beams and doors covered in bold, bright blossoms.

·        A pair of wooden clogs parked under a rustic bench.

·        Beatific caramel-colored cows grazing on emerald-green, rolling hills.  

·        The babbling stream that snaked along the path during my post breakfast walk.    


I enjoy the early morning walk and move quickly till about noon.  I elect to stop at an albergue run by Brazilians.  It is an older building, but clean and inviting.  The hospitalero is so enthusiastic and happy, I cannot resist staying (even though it is a bit pricey).  There are hammocks, there is lively music, it is quite pleasant and there is the promise of an al fresco Brazilian communal feast in the Camelot garden. 


I am the first pilgrim to check in today.  I find a hammock and curl up to write and think.  Later I sip wine and have a long, interesting conversation with a Dutchman I met in Astorga (I call him “The Flying Dutchman”). 


Dinner is pleasant.


At dinner I am amused when a fellow pilgrim (a German man) insists I look like Joan Baez.  This is the third time on this trip someone has compared me to Joan Baez.  I respond with a wisecrack about my singing – if they heard me sing it would certainly dispel any illusions that I might be Joan Baez!


After lights out, I fall asleep with the refreshing breeze from an open window (unusual at most albergues) and the pleasant sound of crickets singing in the night. 



·        Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Molinaseca -> Cacabelos = 23K (189.6K remaining!)


I feel as if I am in a detainee camp.  And like a detainee, I am just grateful to have a place to stay.


The concrete grounds are Spartan and shade less.  Tired pilgrims sit on the curbs in the hot afternoon sun, tending their foot and leg injuries.  Others are hard at work at the outdoor sinks, scrubbing the day’s dirt from their clothing.  Wet laundry hangs on drying racks scattered around the dismal courtyard that is our temporary home. 


Last night I stayed in a lovely, bright private albergue filled with potted geraniums, no bunk beds and a dining room.  Tonight I am just grateful to have a bed. 


There is still a line snaking around the building and the hospitalero’s have no more beds to spare.  Recent arrivals are given thin pallets and are going to sleep in the communal area – outdoors! 


The albergue is a municipal one, associated with a church.  Tiny cell-like rooms line the walls around the churchyard.  Inside each dark, dank cell are two beds (privacy).  There are no locks on the doors, but anyone walking past the closed door could lock inhabitant in.  This makes me uncomfortable. 


I look at the map and see that there will be a steady climb, climb, climb in the near future.  Of course climbs are usually followed by descents and this one is a quick, steep one.  (From 400 meters -> 1300 meters and then down: 1285 meters -> 665 meters in just under 7 kilometers!)  Pilgrims on the Camino learn quickly that descents are often much more of a challenge than the climbs.


On my walk today I saw many lovely sights; sights worthy of photographing.  Since my camera batteries were dead, I took mental pictures of the following:


·        A skinny donkey and a skinny farmer plowing a rocky field.

·        A nest of black cats snuggled together, taking a siesta inside an old tire.

·        Abundant, colorful blooms spilling out of a window box.

·        An elderly man walking his cow as if it was a dog.

·        A fabulous castle (Ponferrada) that conjured up dreams of knights of old.

·        Wine fields spanning the rolling hills with a Mordor-like mountain looming beyond.       


I had anticipated walking further today (7K more) but banking and buying batteries slowed me down.  Sometimes simple tasks take longer when one is on the road.  I had to go to a couple ATMs in order to get cash.  I am always afraid the machines will retain my card, so each time I was refused cash, I elected to try a different ATM.    


I also lingered a bit in Ponferrada where I ran into M. (a delightful fellow-pilgrim and photographer from NYC/London).  M. and I met unexpectedly at the corner in front of the beautiful castle, as if by pre-arrangement. It is always a joy to see a familiar face, so I was glad to see my friend again (he pops up every so often, like a guardian angels of sorts!). 


We had breakfast and good conversation before taking a few photos of the old Knights Templar castle.  (I wish I had stayed overnight in Ponferrada so I could have time to really explore the castle and the rest of this old mining town.) Then we resumed our walk, this time together.  Ponferrada is urban, so the walk across town and out into the countryside took a while.  We walked and talked for a few hours. 


Eventually I left him my friend behind.  In the end, each pilgrim must walk their own pace. 


Dinner tonight was fun.  I dined with S. (a young, irreverent Irish woman with a Gaelic name) and her current walking companions, a group of Italian men who are travelling together.  We dined on a decent pilgrim menu at a local bar: typical stuff, but really well prepared.  The homemade flan was the best I have ever tasted and the serving size was enormous!


It is time for this pilgrim to douse the light and dream about the days to come.


·        Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Foncebadon -> Molinaseca = 21K (212.4K remaining on the way to Santiago!)


I have climbed mountains since I saw you last;

You will not find me where you left me,
I have scaled pinnacles and seen the vast Horizon of a higher point of view.


The lines above run through my mind as I stride along the mountain paths.  I do not know who wrote these words nor do I remember more of the poem, but these lines resonate with me.  They are powerful in their imagery.


I walked alone and arrived at the Cruz de Ferro while mists still shrouded the mountaintop.  Beneath the cross, the ground is littered with offerings.  There are photographs and notes, a mountain of stones and other offerings left by pilgrims.  I look for a while, but feel overcome with a sense that I am a voyeur, observing the sorrows and pains each offering represents. 


With the cross behind me, the fog dissipates.  Sunlight spills over the mountains.  It is peaceful o be out walking when the world comes alive.


As I reached Monjarin I hear Thomas ring the pilgrim bell, announcing my arrival.  A bevy of friendly dogs trot out to greet me; tails wagging, tongues lolling. 


This “hippie warren” is a delight.


I see the 3-year old boy who travels with his entourage of admirers and family.  He is playing with kittens and singing songs.  I sip the coffee Thomas thrusts into my hands.  On the hillside, the sheep and beautiful brown cows are grazing.  I want to linger longer, but the road calls and I leave behind this serene mountain compound to begin my descent down the mountain.


I pass through an enchanted forest and continue my walk down the mountain.  I walk for miles seeing no other pilgrims, sharing the beautiful scenery with no one.  My heart grows full.


I stop in Molinaseca (instead of Ponferrada).  The new albergue is so inviting, I cannot walk on. 


I am immediately befriended by an older Danish woman who wants to/needs to talk.  We buy picnic supplies and linger on the banks of the river as the sun sinks lower in the sky.  We drink cheap wine out of our water bottles and relax.


When I arrive back to the albergue and walk into my room, I am literally swept into the arms of a Spanish man who dramatically danced me around the floor and ended the routine with a dip.  He is pilgrim I had met earlier on.  It is always wonderful to see familiar faces.  And when there is dancing involved, so much the better!


Tomorrow I will be below the 200K mark and in just two weeks I will be back home in the USA.  This will all be just a pleasant memory.


·        Monday, 18 May 2009

Astorga -> Foncebadon = 25K (231K to Santiago!)


“There are no beds,” said the hospitalero without raising his eyes.


“What?” I responded in disbelief and my voice quavering.


Here I am exhilarated from the climb up to the highest populated village in Spain and suddenly hearing that there are no beds available in this tiny, isolated village. 


It is only 1500 – how can the albergue be full? 


His words are especially devastating because I had already heard the same message in the other albergue in town.  The next village is over another peak, about 5K away.  It is a primitive place with no water and no electricity (kind of a hippie compound).  And what if it is full?


Behind me, another woman, speaks up.  “Can we just sleep on the floor?” she says.


The German hospitalero stares at us, as if assessing us and then disappears for a few minutes.  He returns with good news.  He has found an open bunk for me and my friend can sleep on a mattress on the floor.


I say a prayer of gratitude and smile.  I have someplace to sleep tonight!


I shower and sit on the porch, drying my long locks in the dying afternoon sun.  A dog (looking dead) sleeps in the middle of the road.  Kittens dart in and out of the tumbled down slate buildings that used to be homes in another era.  I hear the cattle lowing, their bells ringing as they graze on the steep hillsides. The village is above tree level.  The peaks surrounding the community are snow-capped.


This albergue is church run.  There is a modest communal meal in the small dining room.  The air is cold.  I will be glad for my sleeping bag tonight.  I’ve lost my fleece so I hope it will not be too cold in the morning.


In my opinion, people who stay in public albergues when they “do” the camino have a vastly different experience than those individuals who stay in private accommodations (where you can make reservations).  The logistics of finding an albergue can interfere with the delights (or challenges) of the daily walk. 


And once a bed is confirmed, there are still the demands of sharing space and services.  Diverse languages, nationalities, customs and courtesies add to the soup.   Not only is there a concern about finding a bed after a day of walking, there is the communal experience that extends beyond simply dining together.  I am seldom alone in the albergues.  There is nominal, if any privacy. 


Tomorrow I will see the Cruz de Ferro, visit Majarin where Sir Thomas rings a bell whenever a pilgrim enters his village (population 1).  But now, I shall sleep. 


I have a bed and I am very grateful for that.  And for so much more.  Life is good.



·        Sunday, 17 May 2009

Astorga (256K to Santiago!)


The days and nights are filled with ups and downs; some are emotional while others are physical. 


I did not really enjoy my experiences in Leon.  It is a beautiful city and there were lovely moments, but as in Burgos, in Leon I found myself feeling like an outsider, like a homeless person.  I struggled with my attitude during my short stay there.  I was exhausted.  I was quite glad to leave the city behind me, just an image in my metaphorical rear-view mirror.


I am miles and miles down the road now and journaling again.  My spirits are better.


Today was a lovely walking day.  I found myself striding along with a couple delightful young women.  (One is a soldier in UK and the other a Yale graduate originally from Romania). We sang silly songs and laughed a lot.  It was healing for me.


As I head west, the terrain changes.  I am reminded of the forest in the film “The Big Fish”.   


The albergue is pleasant.  There are about ten people per room.  I have a wonderful view from my upper bunk – the city of Astorga stretches out in the valley outside my window and the moon shines in, lighting the notebook I am writing in.  My suitemates include three people from Slovakia who just started their Camino in Leon – they are dealing with foot issues and overweight packs.  There is a delightful Dutch man and a Danish woman and a German woman plus my two walking partners of the day.  


When we returned from dinner tonight we were all in a crazy mood – lots of laughing and sharing stories, long after the lights went out.  We were all like children at a slumber party.


Tomorrow, I will climb one of the two most challenging mountains on this journey.  Tomorrow, I will write from the top of the mountain.


·        Thursday, 14 May 2009

Ledigos -> Sahugun = 17K (365K remaining!)


I am penning this in the sunny Plaza Mayor in Sahugun.  I am wearing my windbreaker because the spring breezes are still chilly here.  In my scruffy clothes and windblown hair, I feel like a homeless person (which in a way I am).  I am whiling away the hours, waiting till 1600 or so when I hope to connect with friends who live on this very plaza.  I don’t have their address or their phone number, but I have been in touch online.  They are in Leon for the day.  So, for a couple hours I am living on a park bench.


During siesta, there is not much to do.  I spent some time and 2 Euros at the Café Zentral catching up on e-mail.  I snacked on tortilla and tinto (red wine). And now here I am, basking in the sun on my very own park bench.


My day started later than usual.  I left the Ledigos albergue around 0720.  Temperatures had dropped and the prairie wind was quite strong.  The sky quickly became blue and the waving, green wheat captivated me as I walked along.  At 3K I stopped for breakfast at a bar in Terradillos de los Templarios.  I was delighted when a frisky kitten proceeded to hop up on my lap and snuggle down for a nap.  (Spanish cats often tend to be a bit aloof or suspicious).  A second kitten arrived.  I had a hard time making myself leave the cozy scene.


I walked on (another 3.5K) to Moratinos where I was met at the fountain just before town.  An e-mail buddy (and former Air Force brat) was sitting there with one of her dogs.  (She’s an Ex-Pat and has a home here in sunny Spain) My friend and I walked up the rise to the village where we were met by her beloved spouse and dog #2.  They swept me into their cozy kitchen and plied me with coffee and cookies.     Her mother was visiting from the USA.  After days of communal life (barracks living!) it was a delight to sit in a kitchen and sip American coffee, chat in English, and have a sense of “normal” for a bit. 


They offered me a bed for the night and ohhhh was it tempting.  A lazy, relaxed day among kindred spirits would be a good thing.  But, I graciously declined and pressed on.  (Frankly, I am always a bit disbelieving when people offer me a bed or an invitation – I turn shy and feel unworthy.  My social skills are bad – I seldom “look people up when I’m in town” … heck I hardly even call my own daughter!)  I lingered a while, but when some other pilgrims showed up, I departed.  It was a delightful stop and I am grateful to have had a few hours with them.


So, now I am in Sahugun, a lively town in a rural area.  The plaza where I wait and on which my friends live, is bordered with 14 trees.  At this time of year the tops of the trees are trimmed back severely.  In the heat of summer they will provide a lovely canopy, but now they appear misshapen and distorted (to an American’s eyes).  There is a fountain at the end of the plaza and on the opposite end is a bandstand.  A few pigeons splash in the fountain.  Around the plaza are numerous inviting cafes, bars and shops under an arcade.  On summer days, no doubt, tables and chairs and people spill out into the main plaza.  


2300 – Time for Bed

I am full of rich food and pleasant conversation and now it is time for me to sleep.  What a luxury to have a room to myself.  Though I will be up early and walking tomorrow, it is still a great pleasure to have a room to myself.


It has been a delight to visit with friends today.  It also reminds me of how lonely and physically demanding days on the pilgrimage can be.  The contrast is stark.


I say a prayer of gratitude and turn out the light on another day in sunny Spain, a happy day spent among friends.



·        Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Carrion de las Condes -> Ledigos = 24K (382K to go!)


Today I knocked out 24K.  I had hoped to reach Terradillos de los Templarios, but stopped in Ledigos.  The first 17-18K was long; no villages, flat and shadeless. I started walking at 0640, after breakfast in a local bar and arrived in Calzadilla de las Cuerza by 1000.  I pressed on for another 6K and stopped at Ledigos, hoping to find tortilla.  No tortilla available in this deserted, rural bar.  As I sat there I realized my feet hurt and decided to simply call it a day and check in.  I could simply relax and rest a bit and press on tomorrow.  I called Mark and asked him to contact a Christian Science Practitioner for help me with my feet. 


The terrain is flat, but challenges most pilgrims.  Just before Ledigos I watched a grown man fall to his knees and weep at the pain he was experiencing in his legs.  The sealed roads are as bad as the rocky ones.


The albergue is basic, a bit run down actually, but it is sunny and warm and birds are singing.  I am fatigued I guess.  I did not sleep well last night (I shared the room with a snorer/farter who also spent an hour in the middle of the night rummaging through his pack while wielding a flashlight and muttering to himself in French.  He left the hallway door open when he banged around in the toilet adjacent to our room – not complaining, just observing!)


At 1500 I munched down the sandwich I made yesterday (turkey and cucumbers) and soaked up the sun a bit.  I showered and washed my hair (using a bar of soap).  The breeze is drying my hair. 


Earlier I walked around town a bit…it is small.  There are no shops.  The only sounds are the chatter of wild birds, bees humming and the occasional crowing of a rooster who lives behind closed doors on the featureless Plaza Mayor.  I can hear the prairie winds rush past my ears.  It is so quiet here.  Not a car on the streets nor any people.  It is siesta time, but even in the evenings most of these tiny towns are devoid of life – like movie sets after the film crew has departed.  They are like the small, dying towns in the heartland of the USA.  The young people are long gone and only aged parents people these villages.  Finally I hear a dog bark.  No cats in evidence here and no flowers in this harsh small town.


I am hungry for a novel or good conversation. 


It would be lovely to pace my walking in such a way that I could stop for a leisurely lunch at around 1400 and then continue walking later in the day.  Unfortunately, the albergues fill up rapidly.  So pilgrims tend to walk early (to avoid the heat) and to stop for the day at around 1300-1400.  This leaves time for laundering clothes, journaling, getting supplies and dining. 


I love walking early, under the setting moon watching the purple skies lighten and hearing birds starting their daily chorus.  The first stop is at 0800 most days.  I down a sweet café con leche and toast with butter and marmalade.  I stop again for late breakfast at about 1000.  By then I have walked about 4 hours (12-20K under my belt already).  I am not in a hurry.  I love moorings and I walk along briskly and happily most days. 


It is hard to imagine walking through this region after 1300.  The sun drains me and any humidity would make it even more challenging.  How do the summer pilgrims survive?


I am, frankly, ready for a break.  I am a bit worn out and tired of the 24/7 public nature of pilgrim life.  I should check into a hostel and treat myself to some privacy and a day of leisure. 


In just 19 days I will be in Madrid (or on my way there).  I’ll begin my journey back to life – back from the setting sun.


I struck up conversation with a young couple from Finland.   They are tired and angry with one another…chafing.  They ask me to listen as they speak.  They break up as I watch.  She puts him in a taxi cab – it is like a scene from a “tele-novela” (soap opera).  I spend the remainder of the day and evening listening to the young woman sorting out her feelings. 


As I wearily crawl into my bunk, I hear the young woman, crouched in a corner, weeping forlornly as she whispers into her cell phone. What will the next chapter of their lives be like?  Will I ever know?



·        Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Boadilla de Camino -> Carrion de los Condes = 26.9K (405.1K to go!)

I am staying at Santa Clarisa’s (a monastery).  There are only 3 people per room here.  This can mean a more restful night’s sleep than places where 50 or more people share space.  


The walking began at 0630 with the full moon riding on my shoulder.  I dragged in here about 1145 – about 27K.  My legs feel it, but will relax before long.  My feet seem to feel every rock in the road – as if they are reading Braille. 


I feel a blister forming (a hot spot) and no proper band aids – the materials available requite scissors so I must spend some cash on some small scissors and add them to my pack weight.   


Today I bought sun protection – my face and hands are very brown now and there are lots of sunny days ahead.  When I walk, I wear long pants and a long-sleeved (very light-weight) t-shirt to protect me from the sun.   I also withdrew 200E from an ATM.  


The next few days require long walks and few opportunities to get supplies, so I must plan accordingly.  There are few villages and they do not always have store or bars.  In the days of yore, pilgrims could find supplies.  The advent of private vehicles has changed rural life and has an impact on the pilgrimage too.


Once again, I am the only native-English speaker in the albergue.  I am achy and tired and inclined to feel a bit blue.  Rain threatens and the other pilgrims, travelling in groups, seem indifferent to anyone outside their circle. 


I took a nap on arrival and my third roommate barged in, talking loudly to a friend down the hall.  He moved my pack and continued to carry on his loud conversation though clearly I was napping only a foot away from him.  Roommate etiquette on the Camino – not good!


Post-aborted-nap I went shopping.  I ran into pilgrims I have met before and shared a bottle of Valdepena wine (Tres Molinos, the table-wine we used to enjoy decades ago when we lived near Madrid – now it’s only 1.5E!)  An older Spanish man stopped me on the bridge and shared a pilgrimage tale with me.  I listened, nodding my head and just letting him talk. 


I am now sitting in the setting sun, like a cat.  I am in the ancient courtyard, sipping the last of the Valdepena, listening to birds settling down for the night.   Classical music drifts out of the monastery.  Across the courtyard French-speaking pilgrims chat.


I think about my own life.  All of my adult life has been like a pilgrimage.  I have moved so frequently – I meet people, engage and move on…never knowing for sure how I have influenced (or been influenced).  Sometimes when I am away from home, I wake in the night, remembering home, but remembering the wrong place.  In the dark I actually think: where is home?  


The many languages I encounter here on the Camino make me think of the Tower of Babel.  Each day I am reminded of what it means to give thanks for my daily bread (and my daily bed).  As a pilgrim, I am always an outsider – sometimes included, often invisible.  Language and customs and pain humble me.  I am forced to reach out.  I observe life and learn a lot about how NOT to be.  I reach out as much as I can, but there are times (of course) when I wish someone would reach out to me.


I read the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi (which I frequently consult as I walk).  “…grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console,…to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love…”


It is time to call it a day.



·        Monday, 11 May 2009

Hontanas -> Boadilla de Camino =  28K (430K to go!)


Three weeks ago I boarded the plane from the USA and headed for Spain – and in three weeks I will be on my way from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid to catch my flight back to America and home. 


I am, unfortunately, NOT halfway to Santiago yet.


I am, however, making rapid progress now.  Today, my happy, healthy legs and feet carried me almost 30K.  Tomorrow I will probably make 25K.  One note in my guide says to bank BEFORE leaving Carrion de Condes – no banks for two days.  The terrain on the meseta is flat farmland, few trees or villages.  This time of year it is a beautiful green blanket, but I try to imagine walking it when the blanket is golden in the heat of summer.   The vast meseta is like a green sea. 


The long, slow climb up to the flat meseta was early in the day and rain threatened so I donned my bold, red poncho; climbing and sweating – it was a good workout.  I maintain the same pace on climbs as I do on flatland.  This is not true of most of the other pilgrims I observe.  Perhaps I have some mountain goat genes!


Before arriving today, I met with a flock of sheep – they flooded around me as I stood in the middle of the path, delighting at my good fortune. 


I arrived at this lovely private albergue about 1400, showered, washed and hung laundry, and downed a large, delicious bowl of café con leche.   Rainclouds are moving in and threatening my wet laundry.


Tonight I will sleep on the bottom bunk (most nights I choose the top bunk).  The bunks last night were extremely high and I had a hard time climbing into bed.  I tore my walking trousers and my tote bag in the process.  At 0600, I had an even more challenging time getting out of that bunk.  Even an acrobat would have called it a challenge.


Most of the day I walked alone.  I like to be alone with my thoughts.  I did have nice interactions with a German woman who works in the department of monuments.  I see her often on the path.  She is an excellent walker and always looks so poised, confident and well-turned out.  I also ran into B. (the Canadian guy who stayed at Rabe the night I was there) and the woman from Atlanta (who also stayed with us at Rabe).


Lightening is flashing and thunder is booming.  The rain is pummeling the earth.  Already the sidewalk outside the window looks like a river during flood season.  We pilgrims are inside, sitting in the dark, thinking about the repercussions of all this rain.  Half dry laundry is draped on bedposts.  There will be wet clothes tomorrow and there will certainly be terrible mud to trudge through.  And what if we are walking in such a storm?  Miles from anything…lightening…


Eduardo, one of the albergue’s hospitaleros runs in.  He is soaking wet, dripping on the floor, working to light the gas heater for us.  Outside the lilac bushes bend to the ground – the wind makes everything bow and dance as it sings.  The sweet smells of rain penetrate into the room.  I am reminded of spring rainstorms back when I was a child in Iowa. 


I seem to be the only native-English speaker in the room.  The other pilgrims are Germans and Spaniards who are travelling in small groups.  Somehow I feel almost invisible among them – lonely and alone in a crowd.  They do not reach out to me or include me, nor do I make an effort to initiate a conversation.  I have no book and sit here, trapped by the rain, whiling away the time until dinner (hours from now) by journaling and staring out the window.


Finally the rain lets up and a weak sun emerges from behind clouds.  I set out to explore this empty, bleak little village.  I have a nice photo-opp, but my recalcitrant camera fails me again (it is a battery operated digital – I wanted to avoid the charging challenges, but it seems to eat batteries faster than I can replace them!).  A pleasant German woman strikes up a conversation. 


Later we share the pilgrim meal.  Across the table are two young firefighters from Galicia.  We laughed and talked and sipped wine.  Favorite movies came up and I was delighted when they indicated “Princess Bride” as a favorite.  Later a retired Spanish Colonel joined our conversation.  He served at Torrejon de Ardoz back in the 70’s when I lived there too.  So we had much to talk about.  The lively conversation and camaraderie was quite a contrast to the earlier isolation during the rainstorm.  


The full moon shines down on me as I make my way to my bed.  The end of another delightful day on the Camino.



·        Sunday, 10 May, 2009 (Mother’s Day)

Rabe de las Calzadas -> Hontanas = 19K (458K to go!)


The Albergue Door Opens and the Terror Begins!   

If I had do-overs, I would surely make different choices concerning this albergue, but when M. (the hostess at this private albergue) initially snapped at me, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. 


There is something to be said about people who are direct, I thought as I jumped up to respond to M.’s orders.  And I like it when people are clear and direct.  But I also expect people to be respectful of others, so when I heard M.’s sharp, demanding tone, I should have followed my gut feeling. 


This woman is a bully.


And I would quickly learn that she has serious control issues.


B. and I later joked that M. was a fine example of the stereotypical controlling Catholic school director or perhaps a prison matron.  I am generally the optimist and willing to give people a chance to prove themselves.  I always find something good about people and rarely give into the urge to say unkind things.  I am not a saint, but I do believe people generally act from their highest sense of right and people who know better, act better.  So when I heard M.’s sharp tone I was fairly certain she was simply under temporary duress.


I was so wrong.


Throughout our entire stay, M. micro-managed every activity we undertook.  She had many, many rules which she detailed to us during what could only be called an initial briefing.  We sat for almost an hour while she asked each of us very personal questions and gave each of us unsolicited advice coupled with her own opinions.


Let me take a moment to interject a bit of information that may influence readers a bit: I am a retired US Air Force Master Sergeant.  I went through a rigorous basic training and know what it is like to submit to a drill sergeant.  I hope this information gives me some credibility when I say, this woman is like a drill sergeant gone amok!


I will refrain from detailing all the indignities we pilgrims submitted to during our stay at M.’s albergue.  But not only was she a critical Cruella-deVille (101 Dalmatians), she also charged us for the privilege of being demeaned and demoralized!  We paid 20E for a simple bed and a meal of lentils, accompanied by a lecture.


I cannot write about this experience in detail, because I will rant and digress. 


Just trust me when I say, this was a terrible experience and I do not wish it on anyone. 


Oddly enough, M.’s spouse was a very kind, warm individual.  It is also rather surprising to learn that M. has walked every Camino in Spain (her credentials are mounted on the walls of the Camino museum in the waiting room of the albergue).


[24 June 2009.  I elected to NOT transcribe my detailed original notes on how we were treated at this albergue.  It is still painful to relive the experience.  VJP]



*The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I shared on a Camino newsgroup – I used some humor in my brief description of my experiences at M’s private albergue in Rabe de las Calzadas but know that the experience was not amusing in the least.  The 8 pilgrims who stayed that night were not treated with any dignity.


…Ahhhh yes, the prison matron of Rabe de la Calzadas. .

Several times on my Camino I ran into my cellmates, er, I mean pilgrims who had shared that dubious night in Rabe and weeks later, they were still fuming and snorting and dealing with residual anger about the experiences with Michelle (she has actually walked all the Caminos in Spain and proudly displays her certificates on the wall of her wonderful Camino museum.  (I must say her spouse is a delightful man - filled with good humor and good stories...)

I should have known it would be bad when she initially grilled me ("Are you happy?" to which I responded, "Yes, I'm happy." She said, "You don't look happy!"  I was inclined to stand up, salute and say "Yes Ma'am, I'm happy, Ma'am!"  but, I refrained.) And she told me in no uncertain terms that I was not a pilgrim, but a tourist ("look at you bracelets and your long hair..these are not pilgrim ways!") 


There were privacy violations (ie: she charged, with nary a knock, into the bathroom to micro-manage how one woman was managing her shower!) 

There was great concern about bedbugs so Michelle had a rather complicated system of bagging our things and lots of rules about how to conduct ourselves during our stay.  One of my fellow inmates (oops, I mean travelers) broke into tear tears after a reprimand from this woman.

Interestingly enough, she wrote a few motivational words on my pilgrim credential.

I will share an extended version of my stay in my blog - I am slowly transcribing my notes so it will be a while. Suffice it to say, I would certainly not recommend staying at her lovely home...

Just a bit of my experience in Rabe... and I did not go into details because it is too painful to conjure up these memories.

Despite this, I say: life is good...


On the Road to Hontanas

I was on the road to Hantanas by 0630 and was a rabbit – the full moon was glorious.  I walked fast.  I was eager to put Rabe behind me.


I walked to San Bol, an isolated, oasis of an albergue with no electricity or running water.  After mile after mile of green fields, the grove of trees at this small hippie-style albergue looks so inviting.  I am still haunted by the treatment I received last night (M.’s albergue in Rabe), so it is a real delight to be treated so well here.  A kind volunteer made me a cup of coffee and some toast (over an open flame and in candlelight).  


Refreshed and glad to have met kind, warm people, I continue my walk to Hantanas.  I walked with a wonderful Austrian man and shared stimulating conversation as we traversed the countryside.  In Hontanas, we stopped for tortilla and café con leche in a charming bar on a small, crowded plaza.   I decide to stay the night here.


The next few days will be through flat, hot countryside, so walking early and early stops are likely. 


I am almost halfway through my magical 40 days.


As I write this I am seated on a sunny bench on the main road.  Less than a foot away from me a group of curious German pilgrims stand, gaping at the ergonomic pen I am using.  Do these Germans speak to me?  No they stare and then speak to one another as if I am not even here.  At first I do not realize it is the pen that they are puzzling over.  Once I understand this, I initiate a dialogue about it.  It is only then that they even speak to me.


Daylight is fading and this pilgrim is off to find an evening meal and maybe an Internet connection.  It is Mother’s Day (in the USASpain celebrated last week!).  Perhaps there will be a pleasant surprise in my inbox!




·        Saturday, 9 May 2009

Burgos -> Rabe de las Calzadas = 11.4K (476K to go!)


1330 – On a Bench in Front of the Albergue in Rabe

No one in this lovely albergue (Burgos) was up before 0700!  I’m sure it is in part due to the huge party that was going on outside our window.  They were in still dancing and singing at 0500! 


Last night, I limped around Burgos taking it all in.  It is a beautiful city.  There are many large plazas, crowded with families strolling about and sitting at outdoor tables talking.  The children are all polished up and wearing lovely clothes. I found a ringside seat at a charming café on the plaza and sat sipping a light, cool white wine and eating crispy calamari (fried squid rings) while I took it all in.  After people watching a while, I walked a bit and discovered a merry-go=round at a lovely park by the river.  The area between the river and the cathedral is a maze of plazas, fountains and temptations (food, spirits and fashions!).  I stopped outside the cathedral to watch a happy wedding party. 


The women are so dressed up.  And I am like a street person limping along (blisters and strained muscles) in my bedraggled walking clothes and flip flops – my hair flying and my face devoid of makeup.  People stare.  A little girl tugged on her father’s sleeve and eyed me suspiciously.  The father looked at me and then pulled the child aside and quickly moved on.  Is this is what it feels like to be homeless or to be a street person? 


This morning, I lingered a bit in Burgos.  I wanted to visit the lovely castle.  It is only open on Saturdays so I was pleased to be there on a Saturday.  My stiff legs balked a bit as I climbed the steep stairs up, up and up.  I finally arrived, only to find the castle will not open for several hours.  So, I elected to head out of town and forgo the castle visit.  (Perhaps I should have just stayed a second night in Burgos.)


Walking in and out of cities takes a lot longer than simply walking the Camino across the countryside.  There are so many opportunities to get lost.  And of course I managed to add a few extra kilometers to my journey getting lost near a large park near the edge of town.  So a late start, too much sun, sore feet and legs. 


As I write this, I am sitting on a bench outside the albergue in tiny Rabe de las Calzadas.  It looks charming and is adjacent to the local church.  The albergue does not open until 1400. 


A van just raced by, horn honking, and a guy jumped out, went to window next door, slid it open and thrust 2 loaves of unwrapped bread through.  Home delivery…pretty casual, but there is no store in this town.  This is how the locals get fresh bread.  In the olden days there would have been a local panaderia (bakery) and small stores here.  There would also, no doubt, have been a weekly open air market.  These days though, people have cars and those who live in small villages must drive to the nearest city to do shopping.  Just like in rural America – small towns are dying out.  I hope I will find something for lunch/dinner and breakfast.  I have only a Snicker bar and some M&Ms in my backpack.  (I probably should have stayed a second night in Burgos to re-supply and rest!)


I stopped in here today, because my smallest toe has a large blister which I need to treat once I am inside this albergue.  I plan to be up and walking tomorrow at 0600 so I can get 20K in by noon.  .  It is a 9K walk to the next village.


Another Pilgrim limped up.  B. is a delightful Canadian man who stayed at the albergue in Villafranca when I was there.  He had terrible blisters and allowed someone to administer first aid there.  His feet are still sore and he plans to stay the night here too.  He has a dry sense of humor and quite a wit. 


Here we sit in the noonday sun waiting for the albergue to open.


[Little did we know what evil lurked behind that albergue door!   vjp]


·        Friday, 8 May 2009

Villafranco -> Burgos = 40K (487K to go!)


I walked ten hours today.  I can hardly believe I walked 40K!


The full moon was still dancing across the sky (about 0600) when I began the initial steep ascent up the Montes de Orca.  It is a desolate 12K walk through oaks and conifers. Despite the trees, the path is not shaded. At the top (Alto de la Pedraja) is a cross commemorating those who died in the Spanish Civil War.  I began my walk with R. but did not see her after the first hour or so of walking.  I passed many pilgrims early on and then for most of the rest of the day, I saw no other pilgrims.


Walking felt good so I continued on.  I felt exhilarated and filled with energy.


I decided to stop at Ages or Atapuerca (famous for prehistoric archaeological finds) and arrive in the city of Burgos on Saturday.  Unfortunately, I inadvertently followed an alternate route which extended my walk by about 10K.  By the time I realized my poor choice, I was too far along to go back. 


So onward I trudged and made it into Burgos by about 1615.  The 2 ½ hours (at day’s end) of walking around the airport and through industrial suburbs on concrete was very challenging both physically and mentally.  I must admit, I felt like Wonder-Woman when I arrived at the beautiful new albergue in Burgos and the other pilgrims ooh-ed and aah-ed about my physical prowess! 


I am too tired to seek out a meal – I will venture out later to eat and visit the cathedral.  First a hot shower and a nap.  I hope to stay in Burgos a while tomorrow and do some site-seeing.  The castle perched above the city will be my first destination.


More later…


Friend Judy’s Inspirational Thoughts for my Day:


Below are a few excerpts from  a chat with Elise Moore on spirituality .com.   She was on a walking vacation in Mexico when she had a healing of a injury to her foot.   She prayed  with the Bible lesson:


Before I started to read, I was aware that I really needed a quick healing. This vacation was going to be a walking vacation, and so, as I was thinking about that, some negative thoughts began to crowd in. The sort of “what if” thoughts—and I didn’t even want to go that way.

…….. also from Science and Health, “Every step towards goodness…........is like a step towards God".   And what that meant to me at that moment was, I wanted to have every step being a step more spiritual, a step toward the understanding of God and His presence and power, the understanding of divine Love.

I got up at that moment, and began walking down the beach. When I needed to, I would know that every step was toward God, toward divine Spirit, toward the power of Truth to heal. I was not going to agree with pain.   As I stepped out across the road from the beach, I realized I was completely healed.


·        Thursday, 7 May 2009

Belorado -> Villafranca de Orca = 11.5K (526.4K to go!)


Last night in Belorado I attended mass and the pilgrim blessing.  Afterwards the priest asked (in Spanish) for volunteers to help return the icons to their proper locations.  They have been out since Easter celebrations.  While I was trying to decipher his Spanish, almost everyone else disappeared.  People hear the word volunteer and stop listening I guess!  So, the priest took R, and me by the elbow and escorted us through the serpentine streets of Belodorado to another church where he put us to work.


We were late for the group meal at the albergue but it was OK.  It was called a communal meal, but really we were simply all dining at the same time and seated at tables of four as in any dining room.  The meal was good and ended with a digestivo (strong liqueur, like grappa, designed to help with digestion). Baskets were circulated so pilgrims could donate money for the meal.


After a breakfast of cold bread, butter, marmalade and weak café con leche, I walked through two (or three?) small villages.  One village had only 48 residents.  I walked many kilometers of un-shaded, rolling farmland ending in a scary walk along the edge of a very busy highway.  Large trucks whipped by, honking and kicking up dirt.  I was hot and sweaty so when I reached Villafranca de Montes de Orca I stopped for food and water.  After consulting my papers, I decided to stop for the night.  The next stretch of the Camino involved a steep climb and a walk of 12K to the next town (which has no stores!).  One guide book describes the walk as “soul-less.”  All of this at mid-day under the hot sun.  Nope!  I am staying the night!


Villafranca is named after the traders and others who repopulated this region during the reconquest (from the Moors). The community albergue in Villafranca is on an uninspiring (and dangerous) curve of a major road.  It was a converted school.  There are large windows and a nice view from the rear. The showers proved to have really hot water and room in the shower area to dress without being a dwarf with contortionist skills!  I showered, did my laundry, and walked down to the only bar in town.  Time for lunch.  (Lunchtime in Spain is about 1400)


The bar is like a truck stop. The outside tables were flanked with about 20 big-rigs parked side-by-side.  Pilgrims filled the table and sat in the dusty, parking lot passing the time.  We watched local trucker downing wine and beer before they continue on the road.  Familiar pilgrims faces pop up.  Some people were slowed down by blisters, joints that failed, sunburn, etc.  Others have picked up speed as they grow stronger.  Some have learned to take buses and taxis or to ship their backpacks ahead.  People play cards and while away the hours. 


Most pilgrims were in bed before 9PM.  The Snore-Corps (as R. named them) shared the room with us.  These Spanish guys can really saw wood!  They also like to keep the windows closed so once again, it was humid and hot.

Friend Judy’s Christian Science Thought for the Day:

Science & Health:   514:6

Mind, joyous in strength, dwells in the realm of Mind. Mind's infinite ideas run and disport themselves. In humility they climb the heights of  holiness.


·        Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Granon -> Belorado = 16K   (537.9K to go!)


1530 – Relaxing by the Pool!

I am lulled by the gentle sounds of hens caring for their babies.  The albergue (run by Brazilians) has a carpet of green, inviting grass in the courtyard.  There is also a swimming pool!  The garden is flanked by a chicken yard.  I face away from the German pilgrims drinking beer poolside and watch the chickens as well as a family of ranging rabbits. 


Later I will shower and go explore the town, but for now, I sip Rioja wine (though I have left the Rioja region behind now and am in Castle-Leon) and consider moving to the pool to soak my feet in the cold, cold waters.  The pool is in the sun so I linger in the shade and continue to enjoy the antics of the poultry and rabbits.


The walk today was good, but the sun was very hot.  The terrain is like Nebraska or Iowa (I am from Iowa originally so I am a good judge of this and I hasten to note, this comparison is in NO way pejorative; it is merely descriptive).  The countryside consists of rolling hills, farmland and there are few trees.  R. and I had breakfast before leaving the albergue in Granon (rice, bread and coffee).  Though we passed through three villages, there were no bars/cafes open so no bathroom breaks nor coffee breaks.  We arrived, sweaty and hot, in Belorado around 1400.  My current walking companion (R.) surrendered her large backpack to a van driver who drove it to this albergue.  So, she did the last couple hours in the hot sun mostly unencumbered. 


Last night in Granon the local church had a pilgrim mass.  In a small village, the pilgrims comprise most of the people at the mass.  In Granon, most of the village showed up.  The priest gave us a warm blessing and then we went back to the albergue to share a communal meal for 40.  I helped prepare baked apples and stayed up past “curfew” to dry dishes.  The sit-down meal consisted of lentil soup, baked apples, egg salad, bread, wine and water.  We set up tables and all sat around one of two tables to talk and eat together.  Afterwards there were prayers in the church and each pilgrim read aloud and shared a story. 


The house rule: don’t awaken before 0700 (breakfast at 0730) was violated by many pilgrims.  Rustling bags and loud voices - people think they are being quiet and respectful, but they are not.


More later… I am off to clean up and to explore Belorado.


·        Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Santo Domingo de la Calzada -> Granon = 6.5K (553.8K to go!)


0700 – Writing Over Vending-Machine Coffee con Leche

Last night a pair of lovely Dutch women invited me to share the meal they cooked in the albergue dining room.  The women are dear friends and each year they meet to walk for two weeks on the Camino.  They are delightful, laughing and joking, relaxed and enjoying their experiences.  I am grateful to be included.  They also share their meal with a pair of young Spanish firefighters (from Barcelona) who are also walking for just two weeks.  I have little to add to their meal, but I offer up some Spanish sausage and wine and a loaf of bread.  We eat and talk and laugh and sing for hours.  It is a wonderful meal, but of course it is the companionship and not the food that matters.


It was kind of them to include me.  One can feel quite lonely n a crowd, even among pilgrims.  Language, customs, culture, concerns can all keep us isolated from one another.  And at other times we reach out beyond our boundaries, borders and fears to make life easier for someone else.  This is a lesson that may never be completely learned.  One may need to keep working (throughout a lifetime) on the art of reaching out and selflessly sharing.


My American friend (R.) surprised me with a gift last night: a pastry chicken and 4 chocolate baby chicks.  They are so clever and detailed.  I laughed when I saw them.  They are too cute - it is hard to eat them! 


The albergue was an oven last night.  I lay awake, drenched with sweat.  The light in the hallway flashed on and off all night long as pilgrims made another kind of pilgrimage (to the toilets).  It was like an old-fashioned neon sign.  I felt like I was in one of those old black and white detective movies at the flea-bag hotel. 


The accommodations are nice at the albergue, but it is an albergue and there are many people. 


Twice, the man in the upper bunk next to mine sat up in the middle of the long night and screamed (in French) at the snorers.  I have no idea what he said and do not know if he was sleep-talking or simply angry and reacting to the cacophony of snoring and snorting.  And in the early morning hours there were pilgrims up and flashing their lights as well as talking in their outdoor voices.


As the room grew lighter I observed a sweet, rather private moment between a couple across the room.  This very tall, hearty man from Israel (with waist-length dreadlocks) was tenderly kissing the vulnerable cheeks and neck of his fragile, flowerlike companion.  He gently kissed her awake.  I look away, feeling like a voyeur, but pleased to have such a lovely image to start my day with.


1400 – Soaking up the Sun in Granon

R. and I walked together.  We arrived in lovely Granon early in the day (only about a 6K walk!) but I insisted we stop here. Pilgrims who stay at the albergue in this village sleep in the bell tower.  The hospitaleros also arrange for a wonderful communal dinner. 


There are albergues and there are albergues.  Many are quite large and aim to be efficient while others are small and warm and strive to be effective.  I have looked forward to staying here in this unique albergue in Granon. This place is on the favorites list of many veteran pilgrims.


We are the first to arrive.  We climb up into the bell tower and unroll the mats they provide us.  We are tucked under the eaves.  Above, outside, the belltower is home to a stork family.  In the sunny patio where I sit penning my notes, I can hear turtledoves coo and other birds chattering.  The storks clatter their beaks.  Roosters crow and a piece of farm equipment passes through the quiet streets.  Spring flowers flourish and the perfume drifts through the village on spring breezes.  Bees buzz, butterflies flit, and it feels as though time stands still for these few bright hours in the middle of the day.   A grandfather stands tending a baby carriage as he talks to his friends, a kitten plays in the doorway across the street, a woman sings in her kitchen; life is good. 


The mid-day siesta is alive here; a custom that might improve the quality of life of the world if we all adopted it.  Even here on the Camino, many pilgrims rush around, and try to pack so much into each day.  They wear themselves out and have no time to sit and be or to observe nature and people and the life unfolding around them The people in this village however, honor the joys of siesta.


I also like the rhythms of life here in Spain.  People to gather in public place at 0800 or 1000 and again at 1700 each day.  They come together throughout the day. They sip a drink and share. 


From across the street, I hear an old man crying out.  Is he angry or is he demented or suffering from Alzheimer’s.  He asks questions over and over and makes demands.  No one seems to answer.  I wonder what his life is like.  I wonder what it is like to grow old in this quiet village.


My thoughts are of simple pleasures: carving out a nest where I can enjoy the sunshine, a cat or two, fresh flowers, lunching under a tree (or under the stars).  Time to read, time to walk the dog, time for “every purpose under heaven.”  I imagine life in a light-filled space.  I consider the house in South Carolina and wonder if I could build a quiet life there and simply happily-ever-after.  Or is it merely inertia that draws me there.  Or maybe I could initiate another adventure – build and run a guesthouse on my brother’s mountaintop in northern Malawi?  A home and life in downtown Albuquerque or maybe a pleasant life in surprising Des Moines near family.  Simple pleasures – libraries, churches, creative projects…baking bread to share with friends, building traditions, raising some chickens…a small business. 


Life is good and filled with an abundance of delights.  I am open to the delightful opportunities and I am not outlining or making rigid plans.  But I am willing to commit and willing to serve.  I will find that path as surely as I am finding the path that is the Camino.  



·        Monday, 4 May 2009

Azofra -> Santo Domingo de la Calzada = 15.5K (638K to go!)


The day never really dawned.   I woke late and the grey skies gave no clue to what time it really was. 


I made my way down the hall for the usual ablutions, and realized the albergue was empty of other pilgrims.  It had the eerie feel of a schoolhouse in summer or a nightclub seen in the light of day. 


This albergue provided pilgrims with some privacy.  Instead of an open bay filled with bunks, pilgrims shared a small room, designed just for two.  What a luxury to have a modicum of privacy and an escape from the usual symphony of snoring and farting and the pre-dawn rustling of plastic bags under the glow of annoying headlamps and flashlights. 


I set out at 0840 as the grey skies morphed into mist and light rain.  The temperature dropped.  Ahead, I observed a pilgrim disappearing into a taxi cab.  I plodded on up the sloping terrain, eager to find a bar for some hot café con leche.  By 1215 I was in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.  The one village I passed through had no bar so I was eager to find a dry, warm place to sip some coffee. 


I wandered through the historic district, my red poncho the only splash of color on this dreary day.  When I saw the albergue, I decided to stop and call it a day.  The Spanish Confraternity runs this establishment with its large dining room and convenient location.  It is large and modern and well maintained.  I will share a room with about 28 other pilgrims. The grey, overcast sky and penetrating humidity takes its toll.  I am sleepy, the room feels muggy and close and the bathroom is like a sauna.


This is the jubilee year of the town’s namesake and as luck would have it, there is a special mass today.  St Dominic was an 11th century religious hermit and engineer who spent his life designing and building roads and bridges for pilgrims in this wilderness area on the banks of the Rio Oja (River Oja).  His remains are housed in the cathedral.


The motto of Santo Domingo de la Calzada is: “Donde la gallina canto despues de asada.” (Where the hen crowed after being roasted.)  So, I am especially eager to see the rooster and hen that are housed in the cathedral and play a significant role in the legends about this community. 


The condensed version of the tale goes like this: a young pilgrim, travelling with his parents, spurned the advances of a local barmaid.  Angered, the young woman hid some silver in the young man’s knapsack and then accused him of stealing from the tavern.  Of course the evidence was there and the young man was marched to the gallows and hanged.  The devastated, but devoted parents prayed earnestly to St James and knowing St James would support their innocent son, they proceeded on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, leaving their son strung up on the gallows. 


The story does not end here.  Once their pilgrimage was complete, the grieving parents return to Santo Domingo de la Calzada and find their son, still hanging and alive.  Supporting him from under his feet is the saint.  The parents run to the surly judge and ask him to release their innocent son.  The judge, who was seated at lunch, scoffed and said if their son was innocent and still alive, the roasted chickens on his plate would stand up and crow.  To his great surprise, the roasted chickens did just that!  A miracle!  St James protects travelers along the pilgrim route and this legend is testimony of that!


I visit the cathedral delight to hear the crowing chickens.  Later, I visit the alternate chickens which are housed in the albergue where they wait for their 15-day rotation in the cathedral.  I feed these birds bits of bread and feel lucky that they eat my offering.  This is considered a good omen, by those who know about omens. 


I mingle with other pilgrims and hear the inevitable gossip.  About 6 of the pilgrims who I saw at the Azofra albergue last night have shipped their backpacks ahead.  Foot and knee problems drive their decisions.  My own knee is good now and my backpack (about 8 pounds) is light and not a burden.  Some other pilgrims have checked into private hotels for the night rather than deal with the challenges of communal living in the albergue.



·        Sunday, 3 May 2009

Ventosa -> Azofra = 18.5K (575.5K to go!)

The 300 people who live in Azofra are all in the small, neat town plaza sipping wine, snacking on wonderful tapas and talking.  Music plays in the background.  The Mayor splashes more Rioja (regional wine) into my glass and insists I try his wife’s special Jamon Serrano (salted ham).  I am delighted to oblige.  Then he thrusts a plate of salchicon and chorizo (sausages) my way and splashes still more Rioja into my glass.


The Mayor dazzles his constituency with his (seeming) command of English as he chats happily with R. and me.  We nod our heads and listen attentively and do not let on that his English skills leave something to be desired.  Everyone is dressed up.  I feel a bit out of place in my pilgrim clothes, but the locals seem quite happy to have us there. 


What a wonderful thing it is to participate in a local celebration.  We certainly did not plan this adventure, but it is one of the serendipitous things that happen. 


How did it happen?


R. and I walked into the village just as the church bells were ringing.  R. said, “I’m going to see if I can go to mass – you head over to the albergue and see that we are in line for beds.”  She went left, I went right.  In a matter of moments a local man happily smiled at me and literally thrust a bottle of chilled wine into my hands.  Quite the welcome!


The Fiesta de la Cruz, coincides with Spanish Mother’s Day this year.  The locals certainly celebrated and generously included us in their party.  It was a lovely end to our day’s walk.


We walked through Najera about 0900 and had breakfast at a bar near the river and resumed walking.  As we approached the old city, it was hard to keep going.  I was sorely tempted to stop and stay the night since a full blown Renaissance Faire was in the process of being set up.  The medieval town is just the right atmosphere for such an event.  Venders were setting up so I lingered, examining their wares and taking photos of the birds of prey and the armorers chainmail work.  


Above, ciguenas (white storks) have built large nests atop every spire, chimney or tower in the vicinity.  Their noise of their clattering beaks echoed through the narrow streets.  The city was delightful.


R. and I walked on.  We saw several pairs of abandoned leather boots on the steep climb beyond Najera.  It was a beautiful walk and the weather was balmy and bright.  We sang songs and laughed.  I used my staff like a baton and did a little dancing and marching as we walked along. 


The albergue is quite pleasant.  Only 2 people per room!  The patio is very nice too.  There is a small fountain/pool where I soaked my feet in cool water. 


The rhythms and routines of this life are getting easier.  My feet are happy, but I may need insoles…walking on sealed roads is surprisingly hard on the feet.


Tomorrow, I hope to stay in Granon (to sleep in the bell tower).  Or I may stop at Santo Domingo. 


The moon is half-full. 


·        Saturday, 2 May 2009

Navarette -> Ventosa = 3.5K (593.5K to go!)


I walked with R. again today.  


We stop for coffee and toast after about 2 hours.  While we sip coffee, we confer and make a plan.  We decide to stop here for the night to get away from the bad energy of the group of pilgrims we were likely to find ourselves with if we pressed on to Najera or points west.  The albergue in Ventosa is small and is likely to be more pleasant than the large municipal albergue 10K down the road.  This is also a holiday weekend in Spain so there are more Spanish pilgrims walking.  This makes finding accommodations more challenging.  And my knee is still tender.  So a lazy day sounds good.  (Note: this albergue and village was not included in the guide book I consulted yesterday.)


Ventosa, population 100, is quiet, though birdsong, dog-barking, and the sounds of people doing morning chores fills my ears as I sit writing on the bench in the tiny town plaza.  Women are sweeping their stoops, wiping down their windowsills.  A happy dog loped over to welcome me with a wagging tail and ears to scratch.  Some older men are soaking up the sun across the plaza and a radio is playing in the distance.  A tractor is parked here on the main street.


The windows, as in most Spanish towns, are filled with potted Geraniums – lovely splashes of pink and red.  Fat little parakeets and cheerful canaries in their cages on the windowsills and terraces sing along with the wild birds.  


Ventosa, according to the sign in the plaza was once famous for lechedors – people who raised suckling pigs.  People came from far and wide to buy them.  These days the main crops are cereals and Rioja wine grapes. 


The town is so small, there is no permanent store.  As I sit in the plaza a large truck pulls in, and parks, horn honking all the while.  He opens the side and there is a meat and seafood selection.  Customers can enter from the rear door and choose all kinds of fruits and vegetables, foods or cleaning supplies.  It is very well stocked.  It is fun to chat with the local housewives who stand in line to make their purchases and observe the crazy American woman who is gaping at the ingenious store on wheels.   


Later R. and I check into the private albergue.  It is very pleasant and the owners are very kind.  We sit in the lovely, sun-splashed courtyard and sip wine as we get acquainted with the other pilgrims.  There are Germans, French, Irish, Italians, and an 80 year old man from India.  We climb the hill and linger over a pilgrim meal in a charming café before getting a good night’s sleep. 


Judy’s uplifting thought for the day:

Mis 51:26-28 (to ")

"...And starting fresh, as from a second birth,

Man in the sunshine of the world's new spring,

Shall walk transparent like some holy thing."



·        Friday, 1 May 2009

Logrono -> Navarrete = 13K (597K to go!)


Navarrete is charming.  I feel as if I have stepped back in time.  With all the shops closed and the people closeted away for siesta, the medieval character is really evident.  The streets are cobbled and they wind around the curve of terrain like a maze or a labyrinth.  I only logged 13K, but the town appeals to me and a look at the logistics of going further firm the deal for me (16K to Najera, the next community and no fountains or services before that.)  So, a short day for me.  Visions of a hot shower, time to wash my hair and the lure of a washing machine firm my resolve to stop here for the night.


I check in, handle my tasks and then wander around the town a bit.  It is still siesta so I have the place to myself.  I visit the local church.  There are many pottery shops.  Locals have used the red clay to ply a living since Roman times. 


I find an open fruto-seco  and splurge on some bacon which will go nicely with the tomatoes and bread and wine.  A stop at the local bar to use the Internet and then its back to the albergue. 


The weather has clouded up and rain is falling.  Pilgrims scurry around to find a place to hang their wet laundry.  Poor R!  She used the washing machine to wash all her clothes and THEN discovered that the drier does not work. 


The rain keeps us trapped indoors.  I find a novel abandoned by another pilgrim and try to get interested in the science fiction story.  I sit in the kitchen reading and eyeing the Asian family as they prepare dumplings from scratch.  Cooking is a family endeavor.  Later, they invite me to sample them.


A pilgrim sat down to eat and found himself crashing to the floor.  The wobbly chair had collapsed under him.  The hospitalero rushed in to assess the situation.  He did not even offer the surprised pilgrim a word or a hand.  He simply glared, then turned on his heel and returned to his desk by the door. 


There is another American staying here.  She is from Boston.  I attempt to spark a conversation, but when I introduce myself and offer my hand, she drew back and simply looks at me for a moment.  Then she turns away. 


I return to my novel. 


I am in bed by 9PM listening to the lullaby of snoring and farting that are becoming the background music of my sleeping hours.  (Many people use ear plugs to avoid this stress.  I am adjusting, but the volume and frequency of these nocturnal noises deserves comment!)  One woman talks on her cell phone long after lights out.








Our Peace Corps (Ukraine) adventures:

January 2005 - May 2007


Our AmeriCorps*VISTA  (Santa Fe, NM) adventures:

August 2007 – November 2008


My Santiago de Compostela Camino  (Spain) adventures:

20 April -1 June 2009


Blog: http://pilgrimageofgratitude-mycamino.blogspot.com


My Facebook Page & Picasa Albums:

Virginia J. Pulver




Life is good!