THROUGH THE EYES OF A PILGRIM
by Michael Van Ert
I am a writer and photographer. I feel comfortable describing myself this way because people paid me to write and take photos. The writing I have sold is non-fiction, I have aspirations of being an author of fiction, but, so far that is all it is.
Before I began my camino I had a certain image of what this book would be like, the contents and the style of my writing. The purpose of my camino was to take photographs of the seven major cathedrals along ‘The Way” as a reward to those that were sponsoring my trip and that was a major factor (that and my getting ill) in choosing to take a bus as often as we did. We walked almost half of the French camino at about 350 km. I am returning to “The Way” to do the whole French route beginning in St. Jean Pied de Port on June 2nd, 2016.*
Then I began walking and traveling by bus and walking again. Everything changed, my conception of what the camino is, the depth of the information about each cathedral I am willing to include and the meaning of my camino. This transformation has been brought about because of the physicality of my camino. I was not prepared as much as I thought I was for the immensity of the journey on me. And I got sick, not once but twice. And then there are the Spanish people, the food, the villages, the towns and cities. There is something about walking through alleys, vineyards, along highways both modern and ancient, through forest and farm yards, along rivers and ridge lines that changed my whole reason for creating this book. Certainly, it is about the cathedrals but it is even more about the journey.
Michael Van Ert
*March 12, 2018 - I did go back to the camino in June of 2016 but made it only as far as Estella. I am returning this April to finish the 2016 camino.
It’s Martin Sheen’s fault.
No, really it’s Emilio Estevez fault. He’s the one who walked ‘The Way’ and then wrote the screenplay, he talked his dad, Martin Sheen, into acting the lead role and then he produced the whole thing, The Way. So I guess it really is his fault.
The first time I saw the movie ‘The Way’ I was hooked. This was in the summer of 2013. I knew I had to do this. I wasn’t at all sure what ‘this’ was but I had to do it and so I began planning and researching and reading about Santiago de Compostella, The Way of St. James. It’s all I could think about. I decided I had to do it the next year, 2014, during the summer.
Very few people know this about me; when I decide to do something I do it. It doesn’t happen often, I rarely plan it in any great detail. When it happens, those rare times, I know I will do whatever it is I want to do. And it will work out. I have the faith and certain knowledge that it will. And it does. My leaving home the day I graduated high school. Leaving the Marine Corp. Getting Landed Immigrant status in Canada. Starting my own business(s). Becoming a paid, published writer, nationally, in Canada. Getting paid to do photography. Completing the Ironman. Walking the Camino de Santiago. All these things happened because I wanted to do them so bad I could taste it, I knew they would happen.
The ‘how to do’’ of these things has always been the uncertain part of the equation. I knew these things would happen successfully I just didn’t always know the ‘how’. (I’m not one to let the fact that I don’t know how to do something get in the way of doing it.)
The first thing I needed to know was how long would it take me to walk the camino. From there I needed to determine how much I was going to need to actually get there and back, how much while there and how much to have to pay the bills at home while I was gone. This is a lot of ‘how much’ for me. The next thing was how was I to take the time, five weeks, away from work? Who would look after my clients while I was gone? I had contract work to be done while gone. I had to be at the Abbotsford Flea Market every Sunday during the summer with my partner, George Spanks.
The next thing I needed to know is do I go alone or ask someone to go with me? Pat, my wife, couldn’t do it, physically she has a hip problem that just makes it not possible. My children are too tied up with their careers and young children. That left my siblings. I sent out an email to most of my family, the brothers and sisters who might be able to do this. I have three siblings who are teachers, Lezlie, Joanne and Steve, so I knew they had the summer free and one who is a doctor, Tim. Joanne wanted to go but, she too, has a hip problem (many surgeries). Steve was already committed to a trip to Ireland and Tim was tied up with a new job running a clinic outside of Salem, Oregon so that left Lezlie who happens to be my fourth birthday present. (She was born on the same day I was, four years later). I sent them all links to the film and described what it was I was going to do and asked them to join me. They all thought the idea was a great one but only my fourth birthday present and first sister Lezlie said yes. That was pretty neat.
It was January 2014 and I had no money yet. The big ‘how’ of the camino was where the money would come from. I am self-employed and have never made more than I needed to live, to get by on. I knew I needed more. Then I remembered crowd-sourcing and I began to look into that to see how it works, what I had to do to make it work for me. I chose Indiegogo as my crowd sourcing engine. I based my campaign on taking photos of all the cathedrals along ‘The Way’ and producing a book in various sizes according to the level of contribution. I created some videos describing what I was doing and made up goals and levels of support and then sent it to one and all. The response was good, not enough to pay for all but about 30%, once again just what I needed, no more.
As soon as I had decided “I’m doing this” I began reading and watching every blog post and YouTube video I could find on walking ‘The Way’ to see what would work for us as Lezlie had only five weeks to walk. After much reading and discussion we decided our camino would begin in Pamplona, about four days walk from St Jean Pied de Port, the unofficial beginning of the “French Way”. In February I bought our plane tickets to Madrid, our bus tickets to Pamplona and one-way tickets from Santiago to Madrid via Ryan Air, our travel getting there and back was now bought and paid for.
Then I started walking, and walking some more. I was already at my local rec centre working with weights, swimming and the treadmill so it wasn’t like I hadn’t done anything to get into some kind of shape. But the walking for time and distance was what I needed and I gradually did more and more though I confess if it was raining I was not walking.
By the time April came around it was time to get my equipment. I hadn’t gotten a backpack though I had researched them by combing through camino blogs and web sites reading the various opinions as to what the best pack was and what size to get. I settled on a Deuter 31 liter pack, red, and told my kids that it’d be a really nice birthday present and so it was. It was in April that I bought my New Balance shoes too. And double lined socks, 3 pair. I still needed some really lightweight, wickable convertible pants and was pleasantly surprised when my second sister, Joanne, bought them for me. Great pants, great gift, thanks Joanne! I wanted to get a similar shirt but because of the cost I decided to go with two light weight short sleeved shirts and a golf shirt for sleeping. I thought 3 pair of cotton jockey shorts would be perfect. I was oh so wrong as you’ll read later on. Electronics and cameras were a major concern as I needed to take good photos and to be able to save them to the ‘cloud’ for safe-keeping every day or so, especially the ones of the cathedrals. I found a great Sony camera and a Nexus 4 phone that I felt would look after the photo side. I knew a laptop would be too much weight but I needed some way of duplicating my photos from camera to a computer. I decided to take a 7” tablet thinking I could off-load photos to it. (Didn’t work.) I got extra memory cards for the camera and had one charger and one power adapter which turned out to be just barely enough. I decided since I wasn’t going to take a laptop I would write in a journal with one of those pen things (A real notebook that weighed only five ounces not five pounds). I put a lot of faith in finding computers at wherever I was going to stay to off-load my photos to the cloud which turned out to be a disaster as 90% of the computers we found in albergues, where there were computers at all, were old, slow and riddled with viruses.
May arrived and June soon after and my walking got longer with several 10k’s and a couple of 20+km walks along the Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver. My sister Lezlie said she was getting in more walks too and we both were getting excited about going. I started doing household planning things, like getting extra meds to take with me for my heart, making sure I had the results of my surgery in PDF form for my phone, Vaseline, needle and thread for my feet (more about that later), that sort of thing.
I still needed to find someone to look after my clients while I was gone and fortunately our good friend Rick said he’d look after them if and when needed. I let everyone know I’d be gone and should the need arise they were to contact him. That left only my monthly contract folks to look after. I have such great clients, I was talking to one of them, Dan, and he suggested that I give my clients a chance to support me by skipping one month of the contract. I took his suggestion and it worked, 100% of them gave me a ‘free’ month.
It was now time to go. Our plan was to fly out of Portland, Oregon as it was half way between where Lezlie lives in Redding, California and me in Surrey, BC. I had made arrangements to have our cars stored near the Portland airport while we were gone and besides storing our cars for a great price they drove us to the motel we were staying at the night before where we would take the airport shuttle to the terminal.
June 30 to July 1 – Portland to Pamplona
We leave Portland International at 4:30am July 1. We have three stops: Phoenix, Philadelphia and finally Madrid at 8:30 am local time July 2nd. It is a warm day when we arrive. After landing in Madrid, we have to wait over 20 minutes to get off the plane because of a strike by the ground crews. The replacement workers have no idea how to set up the boarding ramp to let us off. Finally, we make it off the plane and head for the bus stops in front of the terminal. When we find the bus stops we also find a number of cell phone booths, people selling SIM cards and minutes. This is a good thing, and I ask how much. “It’s free for 30 days” the rep tells me and “100 minutes is just 10 euros”. This is a deal and I go for it. Lez wants to do it, too, but we find out she has a “locked” iPhone and she can’t do it. Thank you, Steve Jobs!
We wait for our bus to Pamplona for about 30 minutes and find the whole process of “which bus goes in which loading area” very confusing. Fortunately we meet a young lady who speaks English and Spanish and is willing to help us out. We make it to the right bus on the second attempt – don’t ask! This is our initiation to the Spanish transportation system. Don’t get me wrong, our bus was great and comfortable, it’s just that time schedules seem to be more of an estimate than a goal.
We are in Pamplona (Tuesday, 4:30 pm) after a very long trip. We get off the bus and have no idea how to get where we need to go so we look for someone to help us. We ask the first person we see, a woman, who speaks some English but does not know the city so she asks 2 other ladies who do not speak English but know the city. In the end we find our way to the first albergue, a huge municipal albergue, where we check in and obtain our passport and our first sello (stamp). It is exciting to get that passport, I have to admit.
I’m anxious to see the Pamplona Cathedral which is just a couple of blocks from our albergue and as soon as we are settled we go straight over and begin taking the first of many photos. It costs five euros to gain entrance to the cathedral but is really incredible. We go back to the albergue because I want to save the many photos I have taken so far, unfortunately for me the computers at our albergue have no access to their USB ports which means I have no way of uploading them from my camera to my blog, at least not yet. This is going to be a common theme over the length of our camino.
After photographing the cathedral we go looking for food and find most cafes and restaurants are closed (it is about 6 pm and we have yet to learn about siesta time and what it means in Spain) but the bars are open and served food - tapas, not meals. There is an incredible array of food and wine available here and I have trouble deciding what to get. I choose calamari and OMG it is the best I’ve ever had: so tender, so good!
The Spanish people are wonderful. The food, by-and-large, very good; the wine and beer, cheap and plentiful (you can buy beer from a coin machine along with water and coke). Though we don’t speak more than 10 words of Spanish between us, we are getting by.
After ‘dinner’ we go back to the albergue. Everywhere, on three floors, there are bunk beds in cubicles, 8 to a cubicle, and here we meet two of our bunkies. (The albergue where we are staying is very large and - although in an old building - it is very modern.) These two guys are from Denmark and they are worn out, sore, wonder aloud why they are doing this and are glad that it is only going to be for a week. This is my first hint of what is to come, what it is like at the beginning of the Camino. One of them talks about going home.
I can hardly sleep this first night, maybe 2 or 3 hours. I assume it is nerves and jet lag.
So ends our first day in Spain.
July 2 – Pamplona to Puente La Reina – 24 km
We’re up - in fact, I was never really asleep. It doesn’t help that around 4:30 people start stirring; those who want to get an early start. I understand wanting an early start, but to walk in the dark for over an hour just baffles me, especially since you have to be looking for the yellow arrows and shells. How do you do that when it is so dark outside?
Around 5:30, Lez and I begin a routine that will soon become automatic, though today it is anything but. I sleep inside my sleeping bag liner. Though I can’t say it is a pleasant experience, at least it is warm. I can hear rain on the roof two stories above us, and it is not a sound I am looking forward to, I hate walking in the rain and avoid it whenever possible at home. I begin packing my backpack in a way that I think makes sense. It will be the only time I pack this way. Live and learn, as the saying goes. It’s 6:30 and we put our packs on and head downstairs. Once there, we join four or five others in various stages of leaving. I take my pack off and grab my shoes. The door opens as a peregrino leaves and confirms the worst: it is raining, a steady rain, and I need to figure out how the rain cover that is part of our pack works. Turns out it is pretty simple; it sits in the bottom of the pack. I unzip its compartment, take it out and stretch it over my pack. “Easy-peasy”, as my granddaughter would say. I have a basic, cheap, yellow plastic rain poncho that I put on before donning my pack. Turns out to be a big mistake and the last time I put it on this way.
We’re ready to go and open the door stepping out into the still darken street. We’re immediately lost, where are the arrows? The camino shell that we’re meant to follow? Fortunately a young woman who went out the door before us has yet to really leave and she points to the pavement and a brass shell. She tells us the shells are embedded in the street. Eeezee peezee.
We join her and begin the walk out of the city. She is a teacher from Ontario. This is her first camino and her name is Bethany. We ask about what it was like to start from St. Jean. It was hell, apparently. She has asthma which stands me in awe of her right off the bat. She is walking on her own but has met two other ladies and they’ve been together off and on for the first three days. This is her fourth day and she says it is getting easier. We learn all this before we have left Pamplona, where the track is still pretty much flat.
All the while there is rain, rain and more rain. It doesn’t take long before I am soaked to the skin. My poncho proves ineffective and we stop at the edge of the city and make adjustments to our packs. I and all I carry are soon soaked through including my pilgrim’s passport, just soaked, though I don’t know just how bad it is yet.
As soon as we leave the city through the university2 July (5) grounds we come to what will become my nemesis, the hills. We are told these are not as bad as St. Jean. I don’t believe it, but if true then I’d say you have to be crazy to start from St. Jean. I thought I knew what hills were, not a chance. This part of the Camino is a long walk uphill, not really steep but at least 5 to 10 degrees depending on the road. It is a road in name only, a very rocky one with newly formed streams flowing ever downward, around our feet and away from us. How do you know when a hill is the highest hill? Because they always put windmills at the top of the highest hills around.
There are a lot of windmills at the top of this hill.
I think the worst part is the mud. The mud is everywhere. It is slippery and that slows me down even more.
We finally get to the pilgrims Memorial and the wind is blowing and the rain is coming down in a steady rhythm. I am beat, exhilarated at making this first important stop and then really annoyed there is a van parked at the top with a woman who is passing out leaflets for an albergue some distance away. You mean you can drive up here?
And while going up is a bitch going down is worse and that is where my first blisters began. We are eight hours doing 24 km. It finally stops raining at about noon, two hours before we finish. I am literally soaked to the skin, so much so that I have developed a rash between my legs, very painful.
Our routine becomes established here, find an albergue take the pack off, sign in, take my shoes off, shower & shave then back to my bunk bed where I fall into a coma for an hour or two, wake up, get something to eat (we have a real pilgrims meal, our first one, for nine euros. Happily it includes two glasses of vino tinto.) I make contact with Pat using Viber and after dinner I go to sleep. Or try. I have not had any more than 2-3 hours’ sleep so far during any one night, so good luck to me.
The first day is over.
July 3 – Puente La Reina to Estella – 22 km
This is a bad day. Huge hill 3 km in. Took me forever to get up it. Very painful. The sun is out and is hot. We pass through numerous towns which lie parallel to a highway though out of sight and really, unknown to me - Mañeru, Cirauqui and after that we come a cross a Roman bridge and a Roman road. Amazing to think about the history behind it but I am so tired by this time that I think “Somebody should look into getting this thing paved.” It is very hard on my feet because it is so uneven.
Day 2 sees us continue on for another 8.5 hours - no rain, but cloudy, and the trail is still very wet from yesterday’s rain and is rocky and steep, up and down, it is a hilly area. Some parts of the path outside of Cirauqui are so steep they’ve put in stone stairs to facilitate going downhill. Between Cirauqui and Rio Salada we cross both under the highway and over it. Every village we come to seems to sit on the top of a steep hill. I guess it made sense in 1244, or whenever these villages were established, but today it is just painful. We walk through Lorca and Villatuerta both sizable towns amidst orchards, wheat fields and vineyards. In each of the towns there are places, little plazas, where peregrinos stop and rest and we do too saying ‘hola’ to one and all we meet. I notice quite a few public fountains along the path today and in the towns and I fill my water bottle several times.
The road into our destination town, Estella, is a tree lined one, quite dense and follows a river. We come across a sign post that gives us several choices of albergues and a couple of different routes into town. We take a few minutes to choose which way to go. It is not a good idea at the end of the walking day to try and pick one over another - we’re going, “should we go here or there or?” Finally we talk to two young ladies, peregrinos, who tell us they’re going to one across the river Río Ega en Estella because they heard it was good so we decide to follow them and arrive at the albergue which is located on a back alley street.
The albergue in Estella is run by a society for helping the mentally handicapped, it cost seven euros. We check in, I take my shoes off and place them in the front hall with everyone else’s and proceed to look for a bed. I choose one and put my things down and unpack, take a shower and climb into my bunk and immediately fall asleep for an hour or so. Dinner is at a restaurant a couple of blocks from the albergue and is awful and costs €15, adding insult to injury.
My rain poncho was ripped during Day 1’s downpour and is now useless. I know I need another one, especially since the weather calls for heavy rain for the morning. This means I have to go out and find a poncho. As I start out to dinner the rain has begun - as if I needed reminding. On the way back from dinner, I recall having seen a sporting goods store on the way to the albergue. I tell Lez I’d like to check it out. I think they’ll probably have exactly what I need - only they don’t. Besides the man working there I notice four young Spanish boys, aged around 10 to 12 years old, looking at fishing gear and listening to me as I try to communicate with the owner, who knows just a little more English than I know Spanish. He points to the group of boys and speaks to them asking them if they know English. One of them does, and is pretty good with his English. He tells me, after discussing it with his friends, that he knows where I can get a poncho at a gas station just up the road. They are very helpful and a delight to-boot. The one who speaks English (I’ll call him the translator) tries to give me directions. After five minutes I can see it’s no use. I have no idea how to get there. All I know for sure is that I have to cross the bridge that is in front of the shop. I finally ask if he can take me there. He talks to his friends and they agree to help me. One of the boys, bigger than the others, is very full of himself and is obviously going to be a great cad when he grows up. He’s animated, funny (though he speaks no English), and great. He also wants 50 Euros to help me out. The translator tells me to “ignore him, he’s crazy”, so I do. The gas station turns out to be about 2 km from the sporting goods store and our albergue but it is so much fun to be with them, even though it is raining and I am soaked, that I don’t mind. I’m enjoying their company very much. Along the way the boys point out all the highlights of their village, of which they are very proud. The cad even points out to me the apartment where his grandfather lives, along the way. We get to the gas station and the translator speaks to the attendant, a young woman, and to all the customers who are there, telling them about what we’re looking for. At first, the lady doesn’t think she has anything but then she smiles and takes me to a shelf and points to the same type of poncho I had been wearing, it costs 6 euros. I buy it and put it on, albeit a bit late to keep me dry. I shake their hands and thank them for helping me. They go on their way and I mine. After they’ve left I think, “I am so lame”. I don’t get their names nor do I take their photos.
Very good kids. I really wish I’d taken a photo. They are so good and bring a smile to my face after such a difficult day – even now.
July 4 – Estella to Villamaor de Monjardin – 9.6 km
It’s Day 3 and I haven’t gotten my sleep working properly yet, just 3.5 hours last night! Lez and I decide that to try and do 20-30 kilometers every day is not fun because it means putting our heads down and just walk, don’t stop and appreciate where we are and we are not enjoying ourselves if we do that. We decide to do between 10-15 km a day and it is a much more pleasant experience. We still have lots of blisters and soreness and I have that really bad rash but it is a easier day.
Walking out of town we go by all the places the boys showed me on our way to the gas station last night. I point out the various buildings the ‘translator’ told me about to Lez as we walk by them. It’s raining this morning, not a down pour but rain nonetheless. The camino detours off the main road shortly after we pass my gas station and we head into a residential area (hills of course).
Around 4 km into the day we approach a winery that we have been told gives out free wine to all the Peregrinos who want it. We’ve been told you can fill up your water bottles with wine or water if you so wish. There are two guys there now who are resting and one who is at the spigot trying to get a glass of wine by pumping a handle. It appears to be taking a very long time. Finally he is done and I tell Lez she can go first, I pump and she holds the glass. I pump and pump and pump with very meagre results. As with so many other things about this trip the wine fantasy has its’ reality but it’s pretty neat nonetheless. It takes several minutes to pump enough for a mouthful but it’s something we had to do, part of the experience. About 500 meters later we come to a church and a park like area and find four Peregrinos just having a great old time, drunk as skunks at 8am! Turns out, they’re Americans and this is the Fourth of July so they’re celebrating as only 20 some-things can. (There are 3 20 y.o.’s and one 50 y.o.) We wish them a happy 4th and move on. I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re the ones who drained the wine from the winery we just left.
We continue on and leave the vineyards and wheat fields temporarily for a walk by a more modern residential area. The camino now follows a road behind these homes for a kilometer or so bypassing a water fountain where I fill up my water bottle. There are water fountains here and there all along the camino, some say potable some say not. Just before leaving the residential area we pass by a restaurant where some cyclist have stopped for a cafe. We continue on pass a nice looking campground and hotel, next to each other, for another kilometer or so. The rain has stopped.
We’re walking through wheat fields and vineyards with the occasional almond orchard for the next four or five kilometers before reaching Villamaor de Monjardin, our stop for the day. Of course we have to walk up a long hill (not too steep, just long) to get to the town and just before entering we pass an old building that I can’t fathom. It’s on our right and another building, a shrine, is on our left. The bigger building is about 15 meters wide and about 10 deep and there are stairs that lead down to a pool of water. The building appears to be several hundred years old. I don’t know what to make of it, some sort of cistern?
Villamaor de Monjardin is a pretty little village and we’re looking for an albergue that is said to be a place of quiet contemplation. Of course it is at the top of the village. We’re among the first ones there and it is not yet open. We wait about 15 minutes before the door opens and a man comes out to welcome us. By this time a group of 3 other Peregrinos had joined us in our wait. While they sign in Lez ask to see the rooms. I wait outside since as long as there is a bed I don’t really care what they look like. She says the rooms are okay, nothing special, so we get out our two passports and start to register when Lez ask for the Wi-Fi password. There is no Wi-Fi password because there is no Wi-Fi, this is a deal breaker for Lez so we say thanks, but no thanks and walk back down into the village looking for another albergue. Right next to the villa mayor (village square) and the church we find a new albergue has recently opened and is not yet in Brierley’s book. The cost is €15 but since it has all the facilities and includes breakfast we grab it. There are only 8 bunks in our room and right now we’re the only ones registered. It’s a very nice place.
Remember the drunk Americans? Well, the 50 y.0. shows up looking for an albergue still drunk as a skunk. We talk to him and find out he is from New York City and one of the 20 y.o.’s we saw is his nephew and lives with him. They have been separated during the day and he ask if we can direct his nephew to the albergue we just left if and when he shows up. We agree. He ask how much we’re paying at our albergue in hopes of staying here but the cost is more than he wants to pay, thankfully.
Also in the plaza mayor is a small store with tables and chairs set up across from it. I buy a beer, a bocadilloand a banana and settle in to talk to Pat using Viber. Pat isn’t up yet (there is a nine hour time difference) so I just relax and enjoy the serenity of this small village. There is a truck that pulls up to the store across from me, it appears to be an ice cream truck but I soon find out it is a rolling butcher’s shop something I will see several times while on camino.
While I am relaxing and talking to Pat another group of Peregrinos show up, they’re from different European countries, the Netherlands maybe? and one of them, a young woman, spies a village cat and decides its hungry so she gets some meat from the store and feeds it while her companions try and discourage her, but it is no use, she is taken by how hungry the cats seems to be. I am seeing a lot of small cats, smaller than ours at home, on our camino and they all appear to be ‘alley cats’, strays. The locals don’t appear to pay any attention to them.
This albergue has a kitchen so we cooked our own dinner with items bought from the little store. Lez buys an expensive bottle of wine, 4.50 euros, to go with dinner. We also buy a half dozen eggs to hard boil to have for the next day. This is something we’ll end up doing whenever there is a store and a kitchen in the albergue we’re in. Our albergue has a washer and dryer which we take advantage of as we haven’t washed our clothes since arriving in Spain. The cost is 3 euros for washing and the same for drying. We opt to let our clothes dry on the clothesline as the sun has come out and it is a beautiful afternoon. Only one other couple checks in to the albergue and they choose a room to themselves so we end up with no ‘roomies’. The bathroom shower is very small and like the majority of the ones to come has a few hooks outside the shower to hang clothes on and no place inside to place your soap or towel. Not great and is the only negative about staying here.
The day ends after dinner and I am asleep by 9 pm.
July 5 – Villamayor de Monjardin to Los Arcos bus to Logrono – 11.3 km
Woke up after six hours sleep, finally! Toes and four blisters still accounted for, no healing yet, drain them. Breakfast was included in our €15 albergue price and after that we headed out to Los Arcos. It is sunny and warm going to hot by the time we reach Los Arcos, 11.3 km away. It was over 250 meters uphill and then downhill for 100 meters into Los Arcos. The path today is mostly through vineyards and wheat fields (do you sense a pattern here?). About half way there we run into a junction of two paths or roads, really dirt roads are what we’re walking on today, and to our surprise we come across an oasis. A past Peregrino has brought a trailer full of drink, food, medicine (for feet mainly) music and camaraderie. We have a coffee, banana and I get a PowerAde. While there we meet up with the American from yesterday who still hasn’t found his wayward nephew. We stay for 15 or so minutes before resuming. We walk through more wheat fields and vineyards. Since we have slowed our pace the journey is more just that, a journey, not as much an ordeal (except for my thighs being rubbed raw). It’s a hot day, 27+ degrees, hot enough that I am morethan happy to get to Los Arcos by 11:30.
Here’s a new one for me, guess what is the first thing we see upon entering Los Arcos? A vending site that is in a building, a hole in a building really, and along with ‘coca’ (Coca Cola) dispenses beer. Yes, you can buy beer from a vending machine here. Why don’t we have this in Canada?
I’m happy we haven’t gone further though between my blisters and my skin rubbed raw. After a 20 minute break we go looking for the bus stop which we’re told is just off the Plaza Mayor (Main Square). On our way we discovered another wonderful pastry shop at which we have to stop and buy one of the hot and fresh pastries – too good to pass up. We managed to catch the bus within 20 minutes of arriving for just €3.5 to Logrono. At the bus stop we meet several other pilgrims who are going on because of injury. It is a 30 minute ride into Logrono. Once at the Logrono bus station I use GPS to find our way to the Cathedral. Just before the cathedral, Lez and I are talking trying to figure out where we’re going and what we’re looking for when a young lady introduces herself. She overheardus and offers to help out. We find out she is teaching English here (ESL) and has gotten to know the area quite well. She tells us we’re not far from a hostel that has Peregrino rates. She is from Ireland and her name is Rachel. Our luck is amazing, when just when we need some help it appears.
We find the Hotel Logrono that is on a beautiful plaza just a few meters from the cathedral. Peregrino rates are €10. A very nice place, our room has 14 beds overlooking the Plaza, a very busy and noisy Plaza. It has an extra bonus, a kitchen so all we need is to find a supermarket and we’ll be set. Once settled we search for a place to have lunch and we find one before siesta time which means a full Peregrino menu. Afterwards we go to the Cathedral which, with one exception, is not as spectacular as the Pamplona one. I only photograph the interior of the cathedral today knowing that we’ll be here for two days. When photographing the Pamplona cathedral I really didn’t know what I was after so I took ‘shots’ of everything. I should be looking for things about this cathedral that is different from the Pamplona one and the ones yet to come. I don’t have it worked out just yet but ideas are beginning to form.
Did I tell you the cathedral has a painting by Michelangelo? For $.50 they turn a light on so you can see it. It sits in a special vault behind the altar and it is hard to photograph because of the height and it is behind a thick glass which distorts it somewhat.
Our plan is to spend two days here before heading out to the next cathedral. Tomorrow I will photograph the interior of the cathedral and “tape” the mass which I hope to use as a soundtrack.
Our dorm room soon fills up with ladies, I am the only male which I find strange. I fall asleep by 9:30 and pretty well sleep through the night until about seven. During the night I do wake to the noise coming from the plaza below us but am able to go right back to sleep.
July 6th – Logrono
Woke up late this morning and I feel a low grade fever come to visit and it is still with me after breakfast, I’m sure it is just a low grade flu, it’ll pass.
We made breakfast from the food we bought yesterday and while our clothes wash we went to the 10am mass, me for the first time in over 40 years.
Not many people maybe 50 and seven priests. Lots of chants and singing by the priest, very nice. I videoed a part of the mass when a layperson was speaking and voice recorded the whole of it which I will use as a background to a video created using photos of the cathedral. I didn’t want to push it further than this one small segment more later.
Our plan is to walk a day and then take a bus to the next cathedral city, Santo Domingo de la Cruz. Tomorrow we walk from Logrono to Ventosa. Before that I have to find a pharmacy to get meds Tim recommended because with the problems I’m having with the abrasion in my crotch I can hardly walk and it bleeds sometimes. I put Vaseline on and it helps for a while.
We walk back to the bus station to find out about the times and destinations available for the next day. On the way back who do you think we run into for the second day in a row? Yup, Rachel! Talk about coincidence, we all laugh about it and we thank her again for all her help and let her know the hotel is great.
Once back I do a brief update on the web site and again the computer here is old and slow and I can’t the upload photos I’ve taken which worries me.
Late this afternoon it is still in the Mid 20’s, cloudy with some rain. I video the plaza as people scurry and prepare for rain by removing the tables and chairs from in front of the cafe’s and bars.
Once the rain stops Lez and I decide to find a supermarket to get food for dinner and breakfast for tomorrow. Oh, and something to eat while walking. It takes about 15 minutes to find a market, a good sized one with lots of selection. We buy cheese, wine, eggs (we hard boil them to eat while walking) bread, bananas and a pre-mixed salad. Oh, avocados, we both love them. Once back we prepare dinner and I spend the time afterwards in the hotel lounge ‘Vibering’ with Pat while Lez goes exploring the city.
I’m asleep by 9pm, it seems a pattern is developing.
July 7 – LogronotoVentosa to (taxi to) Najera 19.7km
When I wake up this morning I’m not feeling great but thought by moving it would be okay. It is cloudy and cool. We did okay, I wasn’t hurting from my underwear as I was before because I wore my briefs and used lots of Vaseline. Too much information? LOL. We walk to Ventosa today 19.7km and then share a taxi with a Belgium lady on to Najera.
The walk out of Logrono is under a grey sky and is an easy enough walk. The last segment out of Logrono is by walking through a park next to the university, we actually get off track but are quickly sorted out by an older lady who just about physically grabs us while pointing to the right route. She is great.
The path takes us to a reservoir not far from the city. Lez is having problems with her shoesand swearing she will be dumping these things when we get to Santiago. It is just past this reservoir that come to the first place we can stop, over five kilometers from our start. We are hungry and need to use a bathroom so this is a welcomed break and is crowded with like-minded pilgrims. This stop is part of a park and campground and is on the reservoir, quite pretty.
We have several food stops along the way and I blow my budget of €25 a day by about €22 – must be more observant!
We have a 150m climb today that is challenging in several areas and it is during one of these climbs we meet a young family, dad, mom, brother and sister biking the route. The boy, about ten, gets off his bike about half way up the hill, dad rides up but stays close to his son while mom and daughter(who is about 7) combine riding and walking up the hill though mostly walking. Once we get to the top we come to a fence that separates the highway from the camino and a lumber yard. This fence is 100m long and is made of chain link. Peregrinos have taken grass, branches and twigs to make crosses woven into the fence. I have no idea why but there it is, hundreds of them. We did not weave our own.
I wear my hiking sandals all afternoon and they are wonderful, absolutely no problem probably because we were on a road for the majority of the 2ndpart of our 20km hike.
We were planning on staying in the Ventosa up but the albergue was burning incense and Lezlie can’t stand incense. We decided to go on to the next town, too tired to walk so we askaround to see if there is a bus to Najera but there is none. We go back to the only bar we saw when coming in to the village to get something to eat and while there we meet a couple of people we have seen earlier. I order lunch and end up having two large beers. While talking I suggest to Lez we take a cab to Najera rather than walk. She agrees as does one of the pilgrims we’re having lunch with, a woman from Belgium and she says she’d like to join us and we agree. It costs seven euros each and takes about 20 minutes to Najera.
Once in Najera we start looking for a place to stay. The first one we look at is a big albergue that is huge and old and crowded (a dump in our opinion) so we look for another and find one that looks really good but the two people who checked in just before us renders it full. We walk out and begin walking down the street looking for another sign when a man on a bike hands us a paper and tells us there is a new one close by. He offers to take us to it. Turns out he is the owner of this new albergue and is charging nine euros. We look it over and it is quite nice so we sign up and since we’re one of the first there we have a good pick of a bunk bed in a room that has only 10 beds – which is perfect to our way of thinking. So we unpack and prepare our beds which is second nature now. I have the best shower on whole
Camino making this the best albergue ever! Simple pleasures mean everything. We decide to do a wash andso go looking for the machine and while our clothes are being cleaned I sit out in the back yard just relaxing and I notice there are caves in the side of the hill just above the albergue. I wonder about them for a bit when the owner comes out and I can’t resist, I ask him about them. He says they are very old, at one time the people here lived in them, now it is just the birds who visit. After we’ve hung our wash to dry it is time to eat and so we go back to the main part of town where the river is looking for a place to eat. There are a lot of places and it is hard to choose amongthem especially since very few offer a pilgrims meal. Before we eat Lez wants to take a look in the shops and I don’t so I find a bench and begin people watching. There is a group of young girls on the grass under a tree just in front of me next to the river, they are about 13 or 14 years old by my guess, ten or so and they’re doing what teenage girls do (no, I have no idea what that is but they seem to be enjoying themselves). After a few minutes a young man comes around and begins talking to the girls and showing off too from what I can see. There is much laughter and the girls don’t seem to be falling for his charms because he soon moves on. While sitting on the bench watching the people come and go I decide after dinner I will go looking for a store that might have long underwear.
Lez come back and says she’s hungry so we find one of the restaurants that are open and serving meals that have a pilgrim’s meal and settle in. We were told there were some really good ones in town but we don’t know one from the other. Had the Peregrino dinner tonight spaghetti and meat balls, pork cutlets and frittata (2nd course) ice cream, bread and half carafe vino tinto for ten euros. Lez had garden salad, huge trout, and custard with caramel sauce, wine and bread. The meal was good, service was good, and the wine was good so whether or not it was the one that was recommended I’ll never know. Lez in her exploring has found several shops for men that might have what I am looking for so off we go. I see one men’s store and we ask for the long underwear and they don’t carry them. We’re walking by other stores when I happen to glance in the window of a store that sells thread and yarn stuff and lo and behold in the window are exactly what I’m looking for. I ask the clerk to see them and she has two pair in my size – at 15 euros each. I choose one and hope with the one pair briefs I have and these I’ll be okay.
Back at the albergue it is time to sleep. I take an Imodium to help me sleep but it doesn’t work and I get really sick. Terrible cold shakes during the night with a great thirst and diarrhea, I’m not a happy camper.
July 8 – Najera to Santo Domingo de la Cazera 20.9km
Woke up a bit later than usual and every part of me seems to be hurting. I’m thirsty and have all the symptoms of the flu though I wonder if it is related to theImodium I took yesterday. It takes two hours to get out of bed and get to the bus depot. Fortunately by the time we leave the symptoms lessen enough that I can travel to our next destination, Santo Domingo de la Cazera, a cathedral town that was saved according to legend by two chickens, relatives of the two in this photo (who live in the cathedral) so the story goes.
We arrive before noon and find what we think is our albergue, one that is run by nuns. This place is run by nuns but it is a hotel, not an albergue so we continue on until we find another, it is named Casa de la Cofradia del Santo Albergue de Peregrinos and we’re early so we wait outside for it to open. The albergue is a newer one though you really wouldn’t know it by the outside of the building it blends right into the surrounding older buildings.
You know what they do with old buildings here? Instead of tearing them down they remove the interior while keeping the exterior. I wish they did that more back home.
As soon as it opens we go in and are given a glass of wine, some cheese and bread while we wait our turn. Nice! This albergue holds a lot of people, over 100 we’re told. After registering and getting our “passport” stamped we are taken up two flights of stairs by two young girls who point out the amenities as we go. In the common room there is a kitchen, TV area and a computer room with six computers. On the 3rd floor are the dorms and ours is the first one and has about 25 bunk beds. We choose our beds, I pick a bottom one and Lez sticks with a top one but not the same one as I am in as someone else has taken it. I go through my usual arrival routine of setting up the bed and unpacking still not feeling well but well enough to walk around.
After showering and cleaning up we’re hungry and we find a bar just down the street where we get lunch and talk about going to the cathedral which is just a few stepsaway. While eating we see a couple of people we’ve met earlier on the camino who are continuing on to the next village and we exchange hellos. Lez is always interested in walking about the towns and villages we’re in. Because the cathedral is closed she decides to look around the town now. We agree to meet there at 6 pm when it re-opens. I go to the pharmacy and get something like Imodium and find the drink Aquarius that Pat’s friend told her about to help me replace my electrolytes. I buy six cans of it along with some medicine for my rash.
I go back to the albergue and rest for an hour or so in the back garden area where I find, no surprise, a chicken coup with a dozen or so fowl doing what chickens do. The backyard of this albergue is where you do hand washing of your clothes if you are not using a washing machine and it has the requisite clotheslines to hang your clothes on afterward. There are just a few people who come and go washing clothes and hanging them to dry. There are the cyclist, individuals and groups, coming and going because the bike storage is here at the back of the yard. I even see a family of four who are biking their way along the camino come in and park their bikes. The time goes by quickly and I’m soon heading back to the cathedral. Lez is not there yet and as I wait I take a few photos.
The cathedral is interesting in that it appears to be broken in two, there is one building that has a tall tower which leads me to think it is the cathedral, but it is not, the rather plain looking building next to it is the cathedral. It has a grand looking entrance with two sets of doors, one set that is sealed and the other onethat directs you to go around to the side of the cathedral to get in.
As with the other cathedrals there is a fee andan additional one if you want to climb the tower, I don’t, Lez does. There is a bit of construction work going on inside the cathedral when you first enter. I find this cathedral to be very plain for the most part. Of the three cathedrals I’ve seen so far it is the smallest. What I find to be the most intriguing aspect is its’ museum, all of the cathedrals have museums of course but this one appears to house a permanent Chinese exhibition as well as the more traditional cathedral items. Go figure. I’m sure there is a story behind it but I’m not up to findingout now. We spend a little over an hour touring and photographing the interior and related areas. The nicest thing about it is a small courtyard attached to the cathedral with what appears to be an olive tree and a well. There is a sign that I think identifies the courtyard and probably tells a bit about it but I can’t read it, it’s in Spanish. The courtyard is hand paved with small oblong shaped rocks with a distinct pattern pointing to the centre of the courtyard, very interesting.
We go back to the albergue and as the evening goes on I’m getting sicker and sicker – then I start feeling really bad! I speak to my brother (who is a doctor) and Pat tells me she went and saw my doctor about the same thing and both agree upon the same diagnoses, separately – Travellers’ Diarrhea which is a type of food poisoning. Tim and my doctor both tell me I’m not to eat any solid food for at least 48 hours and to get lots of rest and drink lots of sports drinks and don’t take Imodium! Lez goes to the store for me and brings back the medicine and more Aquarius and water. She buys the 1.5 litre size of them both and I spend the evening and night consuming and getting rid of liquids like there’s no tomorrow. My system is corrupted and has me up every one to three hours. This goes on through the night.
I’ll remember this night for a long time for all the wrong reasons.
July 9th – Santo Domingo de Calzada
I’m not going anywhere today. We will be staying another night as it is not possible for me to go any further from the bathroom than 20 feet becauseitcomes upon me suddenly and explosively.
We have heard that you are not allowed to stay more than one night at an albergue so are concerned we may not be able to stay here another day. Our fears are groundless, Lez goes down to ask if it is okay and finds out not only is it okay but we get to stay for free. There are two guys who are in charge of this albergue and later in the morning both come up to check on me to see that I’m okay ask me if I need anything. I thank them and assure them I will be okay soon. I hope.
So we stay though Lez doesn’t like the Albergue for a reason I don’t yet know.
Later on in the morning when I am resting the police come to the room, it seems sometime during the day yesterday four of the Peregrinos have some money stolen from their packs. Why they would leave money in their packs is beyond my understanding. The staff are very concerned and hope we will not think or say anything bad about the albergue, we assure them we won’t.
The rest of the day follows the same pattern as last evening except I cannot eat. I sleep on and off during the day. I drink lots of bottled water and Aquarius, Lez goes to the market on more than one occasion for me. I do move from the dorm area in the morning to the lounge and kitchen and I can do this only because the bathrooms are quickly reachable. My abdominal pain eases by the afternoon and we begin to talk about going on to Burgos and the rest of the cathedral cities. I talk to Lez and Pat about taking the bus to all the cathedral cities to do the photography and then take one to Sarria, walking the last 115 km only, just enough to get my Compostela. I’m a bit dispirited over the journey so far.
At some point later in the day when I’m feeling a bit better I try to upload photos to my One Drive account but the computers here are old XP machines and the upload speed is horrible, non-existent even.
Lez checks on the bus schedule during the day to find out when the bus to Burgos leaves in the morning and finds it leaves at 9:30 am from the same place we arrived at yesterday, about six blocks away.
I fall asleep early.
July 10 – Santo Domingo de Calzada to Burgos (bus 72.9 km)
Got up still feeling bad. Was up and down during the night but did get some sleep. I decide I feel well enough to move on to Burgos and the next Cathedral. I still haven’t eaten anything since Tim told me not to. We know the bus isn’t going to leave before 9:30 so while we have to leave the Albergue by 8 am there is a café yards away and that’s where we go. Lezlie orders something to eat while I continue to drink the Aquarius sports drinks she has been getting me since I was tethered to the room by this “illness”.
Afterwards we walk the six blocks or so to the bus stop and began our wait andwhile we are waiting I observe these two ladies in animated conversation, about what I’ll never know. They are very different, one is dressed to the ‘nines’ with diamond rings and expensive jewelery and nice clothes the other is dressed in a more casual ‘go-to-market’ attire but it doesn’t seem to matter, they are enjoying each other’s company. I don’t know if they know each other or not, I’m thinking not though. I enjoy their company too. It isn’t too long before the bus arrives and we are off to Burgos.
The bus ride is pretty short –less than an hour. The Burgos bus station is about three blocks from the Cathedral, which, without question is the most spectacular one we’ve seen so far. Blows all the others out of the water with its majestic towers, four of them, and the sheer size of it.
Our Albergue sits above a small chapel and we reach it by climbing up two flights of very narrow circular stairs. The Albergue is run by the church, a confraternity whose name I’ll get later. The hospitalier, the man who runs it, speaks no English or any other language other than his native Spanish and yet everyone seems to understand what is being said by each other. Well, the Spaniards understand each other of course. There really is a remarkable process of communication for the rest of us. He talks to me and I pretend to understand what he is saying and I find myself nodding my head pretending I do understand and then I answer in English and he pretends he understands and somehow it works, it’s really quite remarkable.
Once we’ve gotten over our signing in and have been shown where everything is and how it works, the washer and dryer, the showers etc., we do the ritual unpacking. We then go to the front of the albergue where there is a sitting area there we meet two sisters from Britain who are half Jamaican. Really nice the young ladies, 19 and 26 years old. Lezlie dives in talking to them and conversation turns to religion. The 19-year-old believes God has and does speak to her on a regular basis, the 26-year-old beliefs are a bit more like mine and wears the same skeptical look I do when listening to folks who has such strong beliefs in their God.Lezlie and the younger one have quite a ‘God’ conversation and it is during this conversation I find out Lezlie’s church is a Bethel church, this I didn’t know. She tells me they are also known to be called “holy rollers”. Also at this table is a very nice young man named Johnny who is a Catholic pilgrim who is planning on joining the priesthood. He is part of a fraternity who are “on camino” on their way to Santiago in time for the Feast of St. James on July 26th. What a great and interesting young man, very friendly and outgoing. We share questions and answers about the usual ‘who, what, when, where and why’ of ourselves and our lives. Very enjoyable.
After a while I feel okay enough to begin photographing the Cathedral. There is supposed to be a pilgrims discount to the entry fee but because we had not walked that day it was denied us. So we paid seven euros to go see and we were inside no more than 10 minutes when I had to leave to get something to drink, I was so dehydrated and dizzy. We were able to go back again though and I got some really good shots, I think, and an idea for shooting the cathedrals outside of the norm. We did this for about an hour then my battery died, I didn’t realize how low the battery level was it was working so well for the past week I forgot I might have to charge it every now and again. Lezlie’s battery in her iPhone dies about 20 minutes before my camera does so I use my phone to finish the shoot, much to my chagrin I assure you.
We go back to the Albergue and engage in more conversation with the sisters and Johnny. Then comes the singing. Apparently, according to the sisters, the hotelier loves women and he loves to serenade them. He plays two songs for us, one is a Spanish love song and the other, very surprising to me, is a guitar instrumental of the House of the Rising Sun done using his Spanish guitar. He is quite a performer with a good voice and Showmanship. Very entertaining. We eventually have dinner, very little for me. We share more stories with Johnny and find we share a mutual like of ghost towns so I take a chance and ask if he would like to hear a very funny, though crude story that takes place in a ghost town. He agrees and so I tell him about Butch and I and our encounter with Luke and the Coalmont hotel. Needless to say while crude all enjoyed it, even a Danish lady who smiled though she had not spoken any English and tried to hide she knew what we were talking about.
Afterwards I see the hotelier trying to work the old 486 computer that is for Peregrinos use. He is trying to access the internet and is getting nowhere. I approach him and offer to help. It doesn’t take long for me to see that whoever built the computer has locked down the software so very little can be done to fix it. He seems to understand but asks me up to his private quarters as he has another computer there that is in distress. His quarters are quite small and tidy and he shows me the computer. It is newer but I quickly see that it has a very nasty virus, one that encrypts the hard drive and the only way you can access it is by paying the thieves who wrote this virus program their fee to get the key to unencrypt the drive. Apparently if you pay them they do send the key, I would think that as the thieves that they are they’d take your money and laugh, but, apparently they have some kind of honour. Weird. I tell him I can’t help and, once again, he understands and thanks me for trying.
Finally, the day ends.
July 11 – Burgos to Leon 187 km (by bus)
We get up and say our goodbyes after the lights are turned on promptly at 6:30 by our friendly hotelier. Our packs are packed I am feeling okay and tell Lez I am willing to try walking. It is a cold 12° out and cloudy when we step out the door, me in my usual short pants and short sleeve shirt (the only shirt I brought because of how hot it was supposed to be this year). Anyway, within a block I am really feeling ill, I’m not quite over this thing yet and so we decide to catch the bus to Leon and take a couple more days of rest today and tomorrow. We wait for about two hours for the bus which ends up leaving at 11:00 instead of the 10:30 scheduled time. We run into more of the people we have met before and they too are waiting for the same Leon bus. Our trip across the Meseta is a mixture of fields and towns and it is 2 PM before we are finished traveling the 187 kms to Leon, stopping at a mixture of towns along the way, some on the Camino, some not.
While on the bus we look over our options as for the available albergue. There are a fair number of them as Leon is a good sized city but trying to find one upon ourarrival in Leon is a challenge. It takes us an hour even when using my GPS on my phone because Brierley’s book does not always give a physical address, or if he does it is so obtuse it is maddening. We find only one and it is late afternoon already so I call and reserve two beds for us. It is about 1.2 km to the Albergue from the bus station walking through a very pretty park. The GPS guides us to the albergue where we sign in for two days. This albergue is a college dorm during most of the year and an albergue only during two months of summer. There is no elevator so we walk up three flights of stairs to our room which has four beds, not bunk beds, and a bathroom, all to ourselves. It cost €10, a great deal, not fancy, it is a dorm room after all, but compared to most it is more than acceptable. We are hungry so now we go exploring the area looking for food and markets.
Close by our albergue is a beautiful park with a fountain. It’s one of the things I like best about Spain, there are a lot of places for people, a lot of public space.
It takes over an hour to find a bar/restaurant that is open because it is siesta time. We walk all around the area, at least two kilometers up one street and down another before finally giving up and going to eat at Burger King of all places, across the way from our albergue. (Burger King in Spain is call Euro King.) Right around the corner from our albergue we find a general merchandise store owned by a Chinese family. There are a half a dozen people who I take are members of the family who seem to follow the shoppers around, I assume to make sure there are no thefts. We decide we need some utensils to use during our meals so we buy a knife, a wine opener, some plastic cups, plate and I get some sunblock. The hotelier has told us during check-in there is a light breakfast that is available in the morning, it is in the basement kitchen of the dorm. The next morning we go there and find it not worth the effort, nothing fresh at all, even the coffee is suspect.
We arrive back in our room where meet our roomies who are Spanish and who speak no English but by using my translation app on my phone we find what their names are Jose and (I don't remember). Nice people, they have walked 40 km today and have swollen feet. Later, after we had returned to our albergue, Lez goes for her exploratory walk and discovers a market right next to the Burger King so she buys some groceries for dinner. We fix dinner from the things gotten at the market.
After dinner we start plugging in our devices, I have a converter that allows us to charge two things at once so Lez charges either her iPhone, camera or her spare battery and I charge either my phone, Dell tablet or camera. Tonight it is my camera as I have been very worried that my camera is broken because last night when I plugged it in it did not charge so tonight when I plug it in I damn near say a prayer in hopes it will charge and it does, thank you, thank you, thank you! One big worry taken off my shoulders and tomorrow I can ‘shoot’ the cathedral without worry. Yea!
I finish up the day doing journal entries and taking a couple of photos out our window. Yes, we have a window and I’m sleeping under it.
July 12 – Leon
It is a bright sunny morning and this is the best I have felt in four days.
We get up and go downstairs to the basement cafeteria in our albergue to have breakfast, an awful breakfast of pre-packaged “food” that cost two euro adding insult to injury. We vow not to eat here again. The day before Lez had found the way markers for the Camino and we walk about a km to the cathedral where we spend a couple of hours photographing it. About half way there we see people unloading things for sale, it appears there will soon be a flea market opened here. We decide to spend some time here on our way back.
The cathedral is very nice, not huge, not ornate as the first two but it has the best stained-glass windows of them all. It cost five euros to get in and two euros for the inside courtyard and the Cloistery.
On our way back we stop at a flea market that was just being set up when we were on our way to the cathedral. There were about 18 sellers and I found it to be very similar to our own at home. I find a painting of a 18th century gentleman who looks to be a close relation to a good friend of mine. I take a photo of it to send to him. The resemblance is uncanny.
We go searching for lunch, it is an hour before we find something that appeals to us. We end up at the “American” restaurant. Yes, that is its’ name, “The American Restaurant”. It is an attempt at duplicating an American fast food place. It is funny because while they do a good job on the main menu, hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, they serve an appetizer of olives, chicken wings, bacon wrapped hot dogs, crab on a cracker, a bad imitation of a Jimmy Dean type of sausage and wine just how an American would - not! I order the grilled chicken sandwich that includes cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. I leave the bacon and most of the french fries. Anyway, it was good.
I forgot to tell you about the blind professor we were all done but done with lunch when an overweight man about mid-50’s, obviously blind (he is using a cane) heard us talking and passes us but stops, turns back and ask me where I am from. I tell him from Vancouver Canada and after introducing himself he starts talking about various things, streams of thoughts as they come to him. He tells us he is a professor and used to teach at the University of Lyon but is now teaching with the American University Online because he didn't like dealing with the other professors. Quite the character. After 10 minutes we shake hands and he is off down the street.
We walk around looking to find a store and to buy groceries for our dinner and breakfast. We find one not too far from the restaurant where we just ate. We buy things that don’t need to be cooked, salad mix, avocado, bread, cheese and wine and then go back to the Albergue.
I spent a lot of time updating my blog site took hours to do so but it is finally up-to-date. I also add info about my being struck by food poisoning so people have a better idea of what's been happening. Adding a photo to that takes up too much time on the phone and therefore on my Sim card plan so I’ll have to wait for a computer kiosk at an albergue.
It’s been a very interesting rest day.
Our dinner is a green salad with bow-tie noodles, chicken, black olives, dressing and Parmesan cheese flakes all from a package from the store. I add some goats cheese. I bought some sardines thinking I’d want more but didn't need them because it was all too much. We finish the wine from last night, a horrible tasting stuff and that’s it for today.
July 13 – Leon to San Martin del Camino 26km
We walk out of our albergue in Leon at 7:30, past the cathedral to the first cafe we find open which is a difficult thing to find on a Sunday in Spain. We order cafe’ con letche and potato quiche which we devour quickly, not wanting to waste any time since we have a 20km walk planned. We walk out to a bright sunny day, one that promises to be warm.
About 8 km into our walk and on the outskirts of the first town separate from Leon, La Virgin Del Camino, we meet two girls from Pepperdine University (California). They are here with a large group of students from Pepperdine who are walking in a loose grouping, people come and go at their own speed they tell us. They are looking for the same alternate route we are, hoping to have an easier route than the recommended one in Brierley’s book. The four of us are having problems figuring it out which way we have to go so I start up Google Maps on my phone and it walks us right out of our confusion and onto the correct dirt path. I can´t tell you what a good purchase this sim card is!
We walk together for about an hour or so, me with Amanda and Lez with Julia. Amanda tells me she is taking journalism and hopes to have a career in reporting and writing. I tell her of my freelance writing which leads her to ask me how I got the writing jobs I got, especially the three part series I sold to CGA Magazine. I really enjoy our time talking.
The path we are on snakes around a couple of highways leading us towards the next town, Option, really nothing more than a cafe and a few homes. After that brief hour Lez and I join up again and the girls head off at a pace much quicker than ours. I am glad for their company, very interesting people.
The track (read secondary road) is without shade and it gets hotter as the day progresses. The saving grace is the wind, it makes walking bearable. Plus I drink lots of electrolytes and water and every chance we get we soak our hats and our headband scarfs which helps a lot to quell the heat. After six hours we reach the albergue we plan on staying at in Villeinages Del Param only to find it is full already and since it is the only one here we have to go another 5 km to the next town, San Martin del Camino, which will bring our total today to 26 km - a very long day for us. The host at the albergue here in Villeinages Del Param is helpful and offers to phone ahead to the municipal albergue in San Martin so we can reserve a couple of beds. We are concerned we won’t have a place to stay if we don’t make the reservation as the afternoon is quickly disappearing and we have at least another hour of walking. The host speaks very little English so we get help from another pilgrim, an American from Pepperdine, who speaks Spanish and he confirms our spot in the municipal albergue for us.
We are back on the road and at about the half way point to San Martin we pass an albergue that is not in our guide book, it looks inviting but since we have a reservation we decide to keep going. At the edge of San Martin we find a second albergue called Santa Anna which we mistake for the municipal albergue. The host at the bar tells us the municipal is a few blocks further on. We are very tempted to stay where we are but we go a further 100 meters to the muni. It is awful, it is run down in appearance, a dorm with lots of beds and not inviting at all so we turn around and head back to albergue Santa Ana. We are able to get our own room for just 9 euros, a good deal. The only problem we find with this albergue is there is no kitchen and no hot water for the shower. Makes for a short shower! On the plus side it has a good back garden area where we can hand wash our clothes and dry them by hanging them on clotheslines that stretch from cherry tree to cherry tree. There are chickens running around the yard here loose, truly ‘free range’. The cherries on the tree are the yellow variety, ripe and wonderful, I eat handfuls! Because it is so hot it won’t take long for them to dry so we hang them and to grab a beer at tables just outside of the bar itself and I use Viper to tell Pat of my day.
The albergue here offers a dinner for 9 euros which we didn’t like the look of when we first check in but come 7 pm it looks pretty good and since there are no open markets (Sunday remember) and the bars are full with World Cup watchers we go ahead and book our dinner. It turns out to be a great meal with great company, 4 Americans, 3 Italians and me, the lone Canadian. We have wine, water, pinchos, salad, 3 varieties of meat with the standard fries followed by a choice of desert (I have the Crenshaw melon) and more wine with a finale of grappa and another grape liquor I can´t pronounce the name of nor spell. It is a unexpected, good evening topped off by watching about an hour of the World Cup before my eyelids force me to head to bed which brings on a great nine hours of sleep!
July 14 – San Martin del Camino to Villares de Orbigo 9.8km
We leave albergue Santa Anna at 7:50 headed for Villares de Orbing still on our alternate route and heading towards the only albergue there named Pablo y Belen. It is an easy, level walk for the entire 9.6 km, a very short hike today.
Just before we reach Villares de Orbigo is the village of Puente de Orbigo which has the longest medieval bridge in Spain. As I start to cross the bridge I see there is a group of tourist already there listening to their guide describing the bridge. As we approach they look at us like we are from another planet. I guess with our dress and the packs we do present a sight.
The river under the bridge only encompasses 1/10th of its´ span and only under the first part of it as we cross. It appears to me at one time the river ran a different course than it does today, maybe on the far side of the bridge or the entire width of it, I don´t know for certain.
About a kilometer further is the town of Hospital de Orbigo where we stop and have a great breakfast at a very nice cafe we find just as we enter the town. It seems to be very popular judging the number of people both peregrines and locals. It has a great secluded courtyard with tables spread out which makes for a nice refuge this morning. Of course the main offerings are coffee, various pastries and the potato omelet. I choose the omelet and coffee con lecher.
It is about another hour before we reach our albergue which is not yet open so we find a bar that is across the street and grab a beer and snack while we wait. Lezlie asks the lady in the bar for the WiFi password and we pass the time checking email and such. Finally the time passes and we are the first to register our passports. In fact, it turns out only two others sign in today. It is a very nice albergue and we put our things on our bunk beds in a room that has beds for eight. We are getting settled when the owner comes in and she tells us we can have our own private room for the same 7 euros it cost to stay in the dorm room. Great deal!
The only issue with this albergue for Lez is the wi-fi, it isn’t working but a repair man has been called and is expected later in the afternoon and so she heads back to the little cafe across the street any time she wants to connect. The two people who eventually join us are German, one a lady about our age and the other an older gentleman. They are not traveling together and do not know each other.
I have spent the afternoon by ‘Vibing’ Pat and using Facebook to text with my son, Gib, back and forth at the cafe. While there I find a surprise blister at the top of my middle toe, right foot. If I had not happen to glance at my foot while taking off my sandal who knows when I would have noticed it? I’ve been checking the bottoms my feet up to now not the tops! I patch it up when I get back to the albergue.
Before dinner Lez goes out for an hour or so exploring the little town and learns where we will be going in the morning. She tells me of a family she met who are traveling with two children on two donkeys.
I quit “vibing” at 5:30 PM as Pat & Gib have to get ready for work and I to begin thinking about making dinner. Fortunately this albergue has a kitchen and there is a little supermarket just down the street and around the corner in the Plaza Mayor (every village & town have a Plaza Mayor - Main Plaza) where I am able to buy food. I decide to make a simple pasta dinner though I wish there was some meat for the pasta available at this store but not today. So I substitute artichoke hearts for meat and it works, it is tasty and with a decent bottle of wine we find for 2 euros, dinner is complete and good.
Around 6 pm the WiFi is fixed and Lez is a happy camper once more. The German lady prepares her dinner at the same time we do in the small kitchen and we learn a bit about her and the why and wherefore of her camino. There are some tables and chairs in the small courtyard of the albergue and that is where we eat and continue talking with our new friend. After we have finished dinner the man, who has been sleeping most of the time since he arrived, comes down to eat. It takes some time but we learn about him through the assistance of our lady friend who speaks English quite well, she translates the his story for us. It is a sad story, he tells us he was abandoned as a child and lived from place-to-place. It seems he is still living that type of existence. I never did ask his name, it didn’t seem appropriate somehow, I don’t think he wanted us to know.
The evening is hot and I have a restless sleep. Tomorrow our next stretch of camino 14.1 km.
July 15 Villares de Órbigo to Astorga - 14.1 km
Got up early with the intent of being on the road at 6:30, we made 6:50. The forecast is for hot, with hot on the way and hotter as the day goes on. We want to be done before the second hot arrives. We have a light breakfast at the albergue, coffee and pastries, bread and cheese. There is a hand written sign next to the fridge that tells us the cost of each item and a small box where we put our money. Our hostess comes in with a tray of Café con leche as if on cue. Soon we are off and walking.
After the first 1/2 km we come to the next village, a quiet one where I make a quick pit-stop but we decide not to stay or buy anything. The next two kilometers are not bad, taking us through some bare fields and scrub brush on the outskirts of the town and then through a good sized farm. The camino goes right through the farm, barns on one side and farm house on the other. Lezlie notices that a lot of the license plates on the farm vehicles have her initials on them LE-VE. Just past the barns we come upon the farmer on his tractor heading out to one of his fields and we wave a good morning. It is at this point we hit the first rocks on our path, something we have seen way too many times on the camino. The road is filled, literally, with rocks between the size of golf balls and baseballs and they cover the whole 3 meters width of the path. What’s worse is they are loose which makes your footing very difficult, more so going down hills than up.
Just as we leave the farm we come across another pilgrim who is resting next to a tall scarecrow like figure that is meant to represent us, pilgrims. It amazes me to no end what we see along our Camino.
We go up and down a lot of hills today, about 8 km worth. None to too strenuous but there were certainly some that were a challenge for me. There are trees and shrubs on our left and fields of wheat and sunflowers on our right with an occasional vineyard thrown in for good measure. We see our first and only deer a little less than half way through this forested part of our camino, it comes bounding out about 20 meters in front of us from right to left and disappears as quickly as it appears. Shortly thereafter we are done with the hills and are on a plateau when we come upon an old abandoned home, really not a home, but a few walls that were once a home. A fellow peregrino has made this into a way station, similar to the one we had encountered a few days back the difference being this one is not mobile. There are a lot of peregrinos coming and going here today and everyone is very friendly sharing “Holas” as they arrive and leave. It really is quite something, there is everything from boiled eggs, bread, juices, cafe, candy, fruit, you name it to be had and it is all by donation. We grab some fruit and drink, throw in a couple of euros and take our packs off to sit under the shade of a tree growing next to one of the fallen walls. The pilgrims come and go, not all stopping, while we rest including the family Lez saw the day before and we passed when leaving the village, the ones who have the two donkeys. The donkeys are led to the field across from our way station and left to feed just like everyone else.
Besides our host there are two women who help with the cooking, cleaning and food preparation. I’ve no idea of the relationships, if any, there are amongst them all. It is a welcome break and a reminder of the best part of being on camino.
We continued on into Astorga which is six kilometers from our resting place (which turns out to be our half way point). Upon entering Astorga we run into a full blown open air market that is the biggest we’ve seen, full of people and market stalls so crowded we damn near have to hold hands so as not to loose one another. What we do loose is sight of our navigational arrows. It is a royal pain in the ass. I still haven't figured out why this big market is being held on a Tuesday, it is puzzling to me. Finally, by asking directions, using GPS and going down one false street after another all the while looking for the cathedral spirals over the tops of the buildings around us, circling around and around a couple of the same streets we finally reach the albergue wewant, which is right by the cathedral,around 11 am. The reason it is so hard to find is the door is neatly hidden and has no obvious identifiable markings. We are early so we wait until it opens at 11:30.
It is a very old building with lots of character, the floor boards have big cracks in them (they are planks laid side-by-side). The whole structure is like this, very rough. We are on the second floor where the beds and bathrooms and showers are. There are a half dozen rooms and Lez goes looking from one to the other in hopes of finding one to her satisfaction. I let her be the judge of what room is better than the others as I really don’t care. I pick the only single bed (non-bunk) and Lez grabs an upper bunk near what she hopes is a vent to the outside in hopes that will ensure a cool nights rest. The bathrooms and the showers are separate from each other and are on the inside of the building facing the courtyard. We take off our shoes and place them on the little balcony area facing the courtyard. I then set up my bed and take a shower afterwards putting on clean clothes. From this second floor there is an old flight of steps without railings down to the courtyard. It’s very quaint but you must be careful where you step else you may tumble down to the courtyard.
It turns out the wi-fi here is lousy (poor Lez) but it has a good sized kitchen with a drink dispenser (read beer and water) and a nice courtyard that has a washing machine and dryer out in the open, albeit under a wooden awning, where we end up doing our laundry. What’s interesting is we’re not allowed to work the washer and dryer ourselves, we have to get the host/hostess to start them and put in the detergent. It isn’t like that everywhere but more than half the albergue’s we stayed at were that way. While the washing machine does its’ thing I soak my feet in a pool of water that has four streams of water feeding into it. It is big enough to place one of the patio chairs in it while drinking a beer and relaxing. A wonderful way to relax after all those rocks today.
Around 1:30 we gather our cameras and head off to the cathedral which while imposing on the outside is very disappointing on the inside. It is not as nice as any of the previous ones but still we pay the 5 euros to see it because that’s one of the main reasons for being on camino to visit the cathedrals. It is okay and grand even and I take lots of photos but they’re just not as interesting as the other photos.
Afterwards we wander around town and find a market, buy dinner items including chicken which I pan-fry slowly in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. It turns out to be a very nice dinner, one of the better ones we have had. The cost of our meal including white wine and a Crenshaw melon is only 8 euros. I bought a liter of olive oil yesterday and we use it to complete the meal. The olive oil now resides in my backpack and is a necessity for all of our meals at albergues and when eating by the side of the road, especially for bread and cheese.
During dinner we discuss our plans for tomorrow which is a bus ride to Ponferrada from here because we are concerned (me more than Lez I think) that we’ll not have enough days to finish at our current pace. I end the day writing and ‘Vibing’ with Pat. Unfortunately the breeze we hoped would occur and keep the room pleasant did not occur. Plus, I have a very nice young man in the bunk next to mine who out-snores me, a very big feat indeed.
July 16 Astorga to Ponferrada -53 km
We decide to bus it to Ponferrada for two reasons, one we don't want to do the passes outside of Astorga and two, Lezlie has an infected blister on her big toe, left foot I think and rather than aggravate that the bus is the way to go today. However, after today’s ride we vow no more buses for the last 202 km to Santiago.
I use the GPS on my phone once again to find the bus depot in Astorga. It’s not far and we are there at 7 AM. The bus to Ponferrada leaves at 8:20 AM so we have coffee and I have a piece of cake.
We arrive in Ponferrada at 10:30 and walk through the city, which is bigger than I thought it would be, 3.5 km past the castle Castillo de los Templarios to the only albergue Albergue de Peregrinos S. Nicolas de Fluehere. It is quite nice, there is even a pool by the sign-in table where you can soak your feet, this is one of the nicest albergues we’ve been to and it is run by the church.
The albergue doesn’t open until 1 pm so we have a lot of time to kill. There is a protocol for signing in that consist of placing your pack on a chair to preserve your place in line. We are numbers four and five in line, quite good. The person next to us is a Dutchman, Tim, who is walking the camino barefoot because of a promise he made to god. He tells us he has no money and relies on the goodness of others to provide and they have (us included). His townsfolk paid for his pack, his clothing and his iPhone. He speaks 3 or 4 languages and is very friendly reminded me so much of the character Yost in the movie the way. Tim tells us there is to be an outdoor mass tonight and ask if we will be attending. I ask where will it be held and he points to the courtyard. We can’t go into the main area to shower there is a secondary shower/bath area at the back of the property by the small rectory.
While we wait we go in search of food after donating four euros to Tim asking that he watch out for our packs until we get back in one hour. We walk around a few blocks from where the albergue is, looking to find a market. This area seems to be all apartments but we finally find a very small one where we get some bread, cheese and ham which with the olive oil I have makes our lunch.
1 pm finally rolls around and we are quickly registered and assigned a room on the main floor partnering with Tim and one other fellow from Spain. I find out there are over 140 beds here with rooms on two floors and the basement. Our room has a lot of electrical outlets which the last albergue we were at did not, alas, while it has the Internet available though the coin computers there is no Wi-Fi so I know I won't be seeing much of Lezlie today. Our room is a great room with a window looking out on the field behind the albergue, very pleasant, just four beds with a modern bath/shower area just a few meters down the hall.
As soon as I put my things on the bed and unroll my bag I go exploring up to the second floor where I find a library and a computer room. There are six or seven computers two of which are down. I make a mental note to come back to update our blog. I go downstairs and look around at the lounge area and kitchen, very complete with lots of tables and chairs. I grab a beer from a vending machine and take my camera and phone out to the outside covered area which has a roof made up of grape vines with immature grapes in abundance with lots of tables and chairs a great place for lunch or just the prerequisite San Miguel beer which I have at hand while writing this. There are a half dozen younger men, three of which are in kilts and good looking who are bringing out benching in preparation for the outdoors mass planned for this evening. I’m thinking Pat would enjoy seeing them with their kilts and not much else so I take a couple of photos and send them to her via Viber.
Lez says she wants to go to the cafe that we walked by when we were looking for a market about a block away to get connected on Wi-Fi. I decide to use the computers upstairs to update our blog site.
Lez comes back in an hour and tells me she found a market about five blocks away. We heading out to the market to get something for dinner tonight. Lez doesn’t quite remember where it is but we eventually find it and buy what we need. When we get back we invite Tim to join us for dinner which he accepts and offers to help in preparing it so with Tim´s help (he cuts up the veggies) and we have a dinner of noodles with zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic plus the leftover chicken from the night before. I wished I had some basil or other seasoning but it is not to be. The kitchen is a zoo with about 175 pilgrims all trying to cook or eat or both. Once dinner is cooked we go outside to the patio and have a very enjoyable dinner.
As soon as we are done a I notice that townsfolk begin arriving to the albergue/church to attend a special procession of the Blessed Virgin and then a outdoor pilgrims mass. I see some of the procession but am tired so I go lie down for a nap, so much for my religious experience! While I’m sleeping Lez goes out to explore some more, looking for an easier route out of town for tomorrow.
When I wake up and go outside I see the mass has ended and people are heading home. I join a half dozen or so people who are putting their feet in the pool at the entrance of the albergue, very pleasant on this hot night. There is a doctor and a masseuse here who are helping peregrinos who are having physical problems all at no charge. Lezlie takes advantage of this and has the doctor look at her bad toe. He doctors it and gives her advice on how to care for it in the coming days.
After another hour I decide it’s time to get some sleep, it is a hot night but the window in our room makes it bearable.
July 17 Ponferrada to Casabellos - 15.5 km
We get a 7am start and decide to take a shortcut out of town that Lez had found yesterday, we wanted to avoid going around the castle and instead go in a straight line to the other side of town. Doesn’t work so well, we go about 500 meters through a neighbourhood and promptly get lost – GPS to the rescue, we find out way back to the camino. About half way through town the camino follows the river through a beautiful park, especially so early in the morning. Our walk is very quiet, we see only a couple other pilgrims while walking along the river. At the edge of the city we leave the river and head uphill to the road to the next town, Columbrianos. At the top of the hill we come across a class of high school kids on camino, very friendly and after going through another neighbourhood and through what appears to be a school yard (the camino does this, goes right through all sorts of places I would never think it would go) we strike up a conversation with a couple of them and discover they left Astorga two days before and our on their way to Santiago, camping the whole way, not staying in an albergue but in fields and parks at pre-determined points. Some were having obvious problems with feet, legs etc. We talk to a few and they are great kids, very willing to talk to us.
It isn’t long after leaving Columbrianos walking through rural neighbourhoods with lots of big yards and gardens before we reach Fuentes Nuevag. It is walking between these two towns that it really strikes me as to the abandoned buildings, homes for the most part, some old but a lot of them new and just never finished. I had noticed them before but never really thought too much about them. Now I want to know what happened.
It is during our walk at this time I notice two guys who we will get to know in the coming days, but not yet.
From Fuentes Nuevag we come across a couple of highways and then go through open vineyards and then a wonderful forest where we find a wood carver selling his wares to pilgrims. He has set up his shop along side a wonderful little stream. I don’t stop as I am anxious to reach Camponaraya and, finally, after 17 km our stopping point for the day, Cacabelos.
We don’t actually go into Camponaraya, sort of go around it. It is hot and it is here we decide to take off our shoes and walk in our sandals because it appears we will be walking mostly on the road. The house where we stop is a big one with a high fence and a rather noisy big dog who is chained in the yard. He doesn’t look friendly and I’m glad he’s chained.
Cacabelos is a interesting town, we walk through narrow streets with old buildings in search of a store. We find one just before coming to the river which separates the main town area and the outskirts where our albergue is. I buy water and Aquarius and a banana. The store is a small one and doesn’t offer much. Not far from the store we spy a restaurant that has a good menu, we don’t stop but plan on coming back later to eat. It is a short walk downhill to the river and the bridge that crosses it, a very narrow walkway on the bridge. I notice several things as we approach and then walk over the bridge, first off there is a beach area on our left where people our swimming in the river and lying on a very nice grassy area, soaking up the sun and the second thing I see are ladies with canvas and easel painting. Only young ladies and they’re painting landscapes of the river, of buildings and one of what appears to be a church meeting hall across from the church and our albergue for tonight. There is another stream just before our albergue that flows under a house. Quite unique, I’ve not seen anything like it before. We walk over a small bridge to the albergue and find it is closed, won’t open until 1pm. There are benches in the shade at the hall across the street from the albergue so walk over there and take off our packs and wait for the albergue to open. About a half dozen pilgrims join us by the time it opens.
The albergue here is unique of all we have seen, it surrounds the church there in a semi-circle with about 40 two bed rooms, very small rooms, just enough for the beds and to be able to walk in between. We will be in the shadows of the church so it should be cooler tonight. Plus there is a gentle wind which makes it more bearable by far.
The albergue opens and we’re among the first to sign in and we are soon into our routine of unpacking, taking showers and then washing clothes. There are a lot of outside clothes racks and open washing basins but n o washer and dryer. So that’s what we do, hand wash our clothes using bar soap, rinse them out and then hang them to dry. By this time we are hungry and decide to go back into town to the restaurant we had passed by earlier.
Walking over the bridge and looking at the swimming area and all the people on this hot, summer day on the river I wish I had swim trunks, I would go in, I think. I’m very tempted to go in with my shorts as it is.
But I don’t, instead we make it to the restaurant which has both an open area and the normal indoor seating, we choose the patio. They are serving meals now and while a bit more expensive than most places we’ve gone to the service is great and the food pretty good too. We have a good lunch of paella and wine and a flambé for dessert. We’ll have leftovers for tonight’s dinner. Of course food is always good with a glass or two of vino or San Miguel beer! There are not many people here, only one family of four sit down while we are eating. Lez tells me she wants to go exploring after dinner and see if she can find a bigger store than what we had found when first coming through. As we are leaving the two guys I had noticed before show up and ask us if we liked it, we tell them yes and suggest one of the meals to them and the beer. We say goodbye and I decide to go back to the albergue after we find another store. During the siesta time it is hard to spot these grocery stores as they are most always small, narrow store fronts and just hard to spot, especially when closed. We do find one and pick up a few things for tomorrow’s walk, Lez continues on and I head back.
Back at the albergue I find there a lot of young pilgrims here tonight, quite a bit more than when we had left for lunch. I also find out there will be a masseuse who provides her services for free or a donation. Her time is quickly booked up! There is a vending machine here with the usual libations, including Sam Miguel which I buy and start my afternoon ‘vibing’ with Pat and my journaling. It is shady now up against the church wall and very pleasant. Lezlie joins me when she gets back.
We plan on leaving early in tomorrow for the next 17 km or so and so are asleep as soon as the sun is down.
July 18 Cacabelos to La Portela de Valcarce - 19.8 km
The day starts great, the camino is flat leading out of this side of Cacabelos for a short distance before we come to a hill at the base of which is a small rest area with a fountain that I’m sure worked at some time, just not today. We have a bit of a climb at the top of which we cross a highway over a walking bridge. There are more vineyards and before we come across one of the most interesting/bizarre homes next to the track, the yard is full of statues and sculptures behind a fenced and locked yard.
For the next few kilometers the scenery is not much different than what we’ve been walking through for the last two days, lots of vineyards and open fields. It is along here we come across one of the most photographed houses along the camino nestled on a hillside with three pine trees surrounding it just past Valtuille de Arriba. It is just here that the camino gets hilly, not terrible, just lots of little ups and downs.
The largest town we go through is Villafrance Del Bierzo which is situated in these hills but one of the nicest parts of it (for me anyway) is that the path through the town leads downhill out to the other side. The path through the town seems to avoid most commercial areas as it weaves in and around a series of stairs and narrow streets all leading down, before exiting the town. This is one of the few towns where we don’t stop at all. This town is where the Brierley book recommends as a stop for the day but since we are purposely avoiding his recommendations we continue on.
For most of the day I have no problems walking at all until I reached Trabadelo, about 16 km in. We stop for something to eat and all of a sudden my left hip goes ballistic, I am in horrible pain, so painful I almost fall over a couple of times. I don’t remember having done anything in particular to have injured myself but, wow! We still have to go another 4 km to the next albergue shown in ‘the book’. It takes awhile and thankfully the walk is pretty flat, but we make it to what we think is Valcarce but turns out to be La Portela de Valcarce, basically a truck stop with a few houses. There is but one albergue across the street from the truck stop called ‘El Peregrino’. Lez checks the truck stop first as it has a small vegetable stand and store but its offerings are pretty meagre and she picks up a couple of pieces of fruit. The cost to stay there is quite a bit higher than the albergue so we decide to stay at the albergue. To its credit, it has a nice restaurant and the price is right. We register and are led to our room, which means climbing a set of stairs to the second level which is just so much fun with my hip! The room is a private one, one bunk bed, a toilet and shower (separate rooms, the shower separate from the toilet), it is very nice - with one exception, it doesn’t take long before we notice there is a horrible smell coming from the bathroom. To be honest, I don’t notice it at first, I am too busy taking meds and falling asleep, but Lezlie does and she shuts the door and opens the window so it isn't so noticeable.
I promptly go through my stuff and take a Tylenol 3 that I had gotten for the pain of my last operation (jaw). I rest for an hour or two and am able to shower and make it downstairs without as much pain and find Lezlie who is talking with a couple of people and has already had something to eat so I do the same, I have spinach pasta with wine. After lunch I do my usual journaling and rest some more while Lez goes exploring the small town only to find it isn’t a town at all but a hamlet, barely big enough to be called that with no stores or businesses other than the truck stop across the road and this albergue.
Lez meets Daniel and Spencer from Hersey, Penn. a father-son who are doing the camino for the first time. She introduces them to me after I’ve eaten and I learn they started in Astorga a few days ago. I recognize them as the ones we saw yesterday as we were leaving from our dinner. They’re having as much trouble in the beginning of their camino as we had when starting ours, the usual pain of muscle and blisters.
We have dinner together and play cards afterward. I teach them how to play Hearts only to have Spencer skunk us on the first and only hand (restaurant closed at 10). We say goodnight and head for sleep. I have a bit of a problem with sleep as my hip reminded me it was there the whole night but all-in-all it is good.
July 19 La Portela de Valcarce to Laguna de Castillo, 15.9 km
This morning Lezlie is so concerned about my hip She is talking of me going to the hospital and possibly canceling the rest of my trip while she goes on. I tell her “let's see how I do”. Just in case, she asks the people at the albergue about bus service from here to Santiago and we find there is none. So after I take a Tylenol 3 we continue our camino.
We have our ‘usual’ breakfast of cafe con Leche and toastada at Ruitelan about 1.5 km from our start on a cloudy day that threatens rain. It’s interesting, we are walking through Ruitelau, a small hamlet without much in the way of places to eat when it starts to sprinkle, off and on. We see a place off to our left on the downward slope of the street we’re on and we decide to try it out. There are some outside tables and chairs under a bit of a cover so we dump our packs and go inside where we see who appears to be the owner talking to two other local men. He ignores us and goes outside with these two in deep conversation, leaving us alone at the counter. We wait for ten minutes before deciding to look elsewhere, we put on our packs and start walking up the short drive to the camino when he comes rushing back towards us gesturing for us to stay so we do. The food and cafe were good and he was fine once he decided to serve us. I buy a bottle of Aquarius to bring along as I am out and there was nothing at the albergue we started from.
I am good from 8 AM to 11 AM courtesy of the Tylenol 3’s and then 2 ibuprofen's. The route is flat and along the roadway until we reach Herrerios, a very pretty little village, where we had originally planned to stop but it isn't raining now and I feel fine so on we go to LaFaba where we are definitely going to stop after climbing about 250 m on a rough road. We reach LaFaba and have to ask about the location of the albergue and find it is run by a group from Germany. It is very nice but not open yet and won’t be for at least another hour. We decide to find some place to eat and discover a bar just inside town. The owner made us sandwich's, mine comes right away but Lez’s takes awhile. It turns out that there is a misunderstanding as to what Lez ordered and what the owner, who speaks little to no English, thinks she wanted which turns out to be different then what she gets. But it is all good and while eating we decide to continue on because we’re both feeling fine and it is still early. There are a lot of pilgrims stopping here and meeting outside of the bar, it appears to be a sort of social junction. Of course it starts raining as soon as we make the decision to keep going, but, we figure it is only 2.6 km to the next albergue so we can do that.
It is a rough path in the pouring rain and very beautiful. I stop numerous times on the very steep uphill because I’m concerned about pushing my heart rate and I’m breathing pretty heavy, but, otherwise I’m feeling fine, wet, but fine and it is good. No hip problem! It was sore at first then again after 3 hours but with pills it's been okay.
We see lots of cows being herded through a couple of the towns we pass through and a very bright bird with a fabulously yellow head about the size of a Robin. Unfortunately Lez misses seeing the bird.
We're now about 2 km from the top of this, the steepest part of the camino. The last 3 km being in pouring rain and very steep. We get to Laguna de Castilla at 2 PM six hours after starting and have walked 19.5 km all told. We’re soaked through and through but this albergue, LA Escuela, is in the middle of nowhere, only a couple of farm houses in view and is quite nice. The albergue is very new with great facilities and just seven beds in our room on the first floor (it would be the called the second floor in Canada) including our new friends the father-son combination of Daniel and Spencer. It seems they got here 2 hours ahead of us at 11:30. The sore point for me, concerning the albergue, is the nine euros it cost for the room and then another eight euros to do clothes. There’s no getting around it though, we weren’t able to do laundry at the last albergue and they need to be washed and since it is raining we have to go for the dryer too, no hanging clothes on the clothesline today. Such is the Camino.
A sore point for Lez and just about everyone else staying here is that there is no WiFi - for anyone but me! Once again, buying the Sim card has been proven to be the best thing I've purchased on this trip. So I have a beer and check in with Pat and do some journaling before dinner time.
We have the pilgrims meal for dinner it was pretty good at what seems to be the standard price, €10 for two courses, dessert and wine or water. After dinner we play Hearts with Danielle and Spencer. Lezlie won. Sleep well during the night most likely due to the uphill trek the last three hours of our camino!
July 20 Laguna de Castilla to Fonfria - 16.8 km
It isn't raining when I wake up but I know it soon will be so we set ourselves up for it by packing those things most likely to get wet into plastic bags. It doesn’t take long to get ready and after putting on our rain ponchos we’re ready to go. We have a quick bite to eat before leaving knowing it is only a couple of kilometers to O Cebreiro where we can get more if we wish. Before leaving we decide that instead of following the earthen track we’ll follow the bicycle route, the road, because of the rain and mud and they run parallel to each other so the distance will be the same. Mainly we do it because it is the easier route for today.
And it is easier though we do take the earthen track out of Laguna de Castilla for about the first 500 meters before reaching on the road. Even in the rain I can see how beautiful this part of Spain is, really impressive. We pause several times on the way up to appreciate where we are and to rest. It takes us about an hour to reach O Cebreiro at the top of this two day segment that saw us climb 663 meters (over 2,175 feet).
When we reach O Cebreiro the rain starts. I find O Cebreiro to be like a step back into time, it is there only for us pilgrims and consist of a church, a large albergue, a bar/cafe and a few homes for the 50 or so people who live here all year round. The rain and early morning really enhances this feeling. We take a small bathroom break but other than getting something to drink, taking a few photos and looking around we don’t spend any time here.
Before we left I was under the impression from the Brierley book that today’s route should be mostly flat, it isn't. Heading out of O Cebreiro we are in the mountains and the camino takes us on dirt roads which can be confusing and not always well marked. We don’t go 500 meters when I notice there are no other pilgrims around us. I think we’re off the track even though the road we’re on is pretty well used. I tell Lezlie that I’m pretty sure we’re off-camino and I start up the GPS on Google Maps to see where we are and what we can do about it. It amazes me that the dirt road we are on is marked on the map and I can see where we have to go to get to the next village, Linares, and after a few turns and different tracks all of a sudden we run into a bunch of pilgrims! The sim card has saved us once again and we’re back on the right road heading downhill to Linares. We are almost at the village when we run into Daniel and Spencer who are taking photos of the great scenery here. (Daniel has a great camera.) About 5 kilometers past Linares we come to the worst hill of my camino, Alto do Palo -the chicken farm. It is raining and windy and I am soaked through when we come to a very steep incline that, unknown to me leads to Alto do Palo. It is a 100’ straight up and about 50’ forward, I swear it is a 50% incline! Oh, did I mention it is raining as we start up? Wee bitch of a hill. We get to the top and there is a cafe right at the end of the climb, literally, we’re at the highway and the cafe at the same time and I am miserable, my poncho has given out, more tears and I am soaked to the skin. We dump our packs outside at this very crowded cafe/bar, full of pilgrims half of which are on bikes. I find two spots at a table and Lez heads off to the bathroom, which, it turns out, is a hole in the ground. I mean it, I’ve never seen such a thing before, but that’s what it is. I have two cafés con lechee’s and some bread and cheese in my attempt to get warm. It works somewhat but I am still soaked to the skin by the time we’re ready to leave.
On the final leg to Fonfria we take the bike route which is on the highway, much quicker, easier on the legs and hips. Just past Alto do Polo we come to the highest point of the highway at a posted altitude of 1270 meters, Alto do San Roque, that has a great pilgrim statue where everyone stops to have their photo taken, Lez & I included. From here we leave the highway and are back on the earthen camino that follows the road pretty much but is up and down in narrow cervices and open hillsides. Even in the rain, which continues off and on, not heavy since the “chicken” place the country side is beautiful.
My hip is been on and off all day today. Drugs, as usual, help make the pain bearable.
We reached the albergue at Fonfria around 11:30 and quickly sign in. Fonfria is a very small place, mostly it is farm country with this albergue dedicated to us. Earlier in the day we had asked Daniel and Spencer to hold a spot for us if they arrive before we do although it turns out there was no need as not many pilgrims are here at this point, 3:20 PM.
I have a tuna tomato and cheese sandwich with a San Miguel beer four euros. A very good price. The sun is when coming and going since we got here, mostly going, but the rain has held off for now but it still doesn't look good. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow as my poncho, the second one, has just about had it, ripped down the front and ready for the trashcan. While eating we meet another father and son who have just begun their camino at O Cebreiro and are heading on. We talk for a bit and the father tells us he was inspired to do this because of the movie The Way. He is from Philly and was invited to the premier of the movie and met both Martin Sheen and Emile Esteves. It was the movie and this meeting that inspired him. Then he ask me, “Are you a priest?”. After picking myself up from the floor after being gop-smacked with this question I assure him I am the furthest thing from a priest there could be, though I am a lasped catholic. Daniel and Spencer are at the next table and hear all this and as soon as this father and son leave he starts asking me for my ‘blessing’. These jokes go on for the rest of the day and I threaten to ‘ex-communicate him’ if isn’t careful. Great fun.
This albergue has a really neat feature which puzzled me when I first saw it. Right next to where we place our boots upon arriving are more shelves with a bunch of plastic hoses about six inches apart. For the life of me I can’t figure out what that’s all about and it drives me crazy not knowing so I ask one of the albergue’s staff and they tell me after everyone has arrived they take our boots and stick these hoses in them and turn on a heater which dries them from the inside out. Amazing! The camino just continues to astound me every day.
There is a couple of older computers here and I take an hour or so to update this blog and to talk to Pat and write in my journal. Afterward we decide to take part in our first true pilgrims meal hosted by the albergue. It is held at a unique round building that is just down the hill on the other side of the roadway from the albergue. It is ten euros and, as usual, all inclusive. It is one of the best if not the best dinner I have had on the Camino. It begins at a very long, curved table that hugs the outside wall. It begins with water and wine, lots of it and the wine is the house wine from their own vineyards. Then lots of bread is placed closely followed by bowls of potato and leek soup. You take as much as you want and it is great. The next course is a seafood macaroni brought out on long serving dishes and once again you help yourself. All the time we talk to each other and find out where we’re from, where we began and just meet some great people during what is quickly becoming a great meal. The main course is beef burgeon and rice, lots of tender beef and for dessert we get a nice sweet cake which is kind of spicy. There is no skimping on the meal at any stage. I head back to the albergue and bed full and happy. I talked to a lot of people from all over and everyone agreed it was definitely a great meal and a great experience. It takes about five seconds for me to fall asleep after my head hits my pillow!
July 21 Fonfria to Samos – 19 km
Today we’re heading for Samos, this is an alternate camino route as the main route goes through Alto and Furela and on to Sarria without any towns of size and is a steeper
route than the route through the monastery town of Samos. Daniel and Spencer have told us this morning they’re taking the “regular” route because of time constraints. Hopefully we’ll see them again before too long. We know they have a flight back to the US on the 1st out of Madrid so we may not.
The weather is great today. Our camino route is pretty much all down hill, most of it steep and rocky which is very bad on my hip (I take both types of meds and it helps but it is not fun). The scenery, as it has been during the last couple of days, is very pretty and peaceful which helps me ignore my physical discomfort.
Only one concern for me today, I ran out of cash the day before yesterday because the last two villages we went through that had cash machines didn’t work for me, the first one because it was the wrong bank affiliation and the second because it was out of order so I have to rely on Lez until we find a working machine. Fortunately she has enough for the two of us. I could use my credit card but very, very few places accept them along the camino and those that do are mostly in the larger towns and cities.
It takes just a couple of hours before we reach Triacastela after a brief stop at Pasantes for cafe and a bite to eat. We descended over 600 meters in 9 km! Triacastela is a small town with a number of albergues, stores, cafes and a bank. We stop at a store just about 100 meters from where the two camino tracks separate in order to get some food for lunch and dinner not knowing when we’re likely to be able to do so again. I ask about a bank and find there is one just up the street which I go to while Lez stays at the store watching our packs. This bank does not have an ATM so I’m out of luck once again. Hopefully Samos will have either a bank or ATM or maybe both.
A short time after taking the Samos route we come across a woman, Amparo. and her two young daughters (by young I mean late teens, early 20’s). We walk with them for several kilometers and have a great conversation. We discover she owns a company that makes decorative tile for homes and commercial buildings by hand, a company that has been in her family for a long time. A very nice lady who speaks English quite well as do her daughters.
Around Renche I decide I want to walk along the road which runs pretty much parallel with the camino but is a much easier walk. Our new found friend and her daughters keep on the track so we say goodbye. They hope to reach Sarria today which is quite some distance yet. We exchange information and she invites Lezlie to come visit the next time Lez is in Spain. By the time we reach Lusio I am ready to call it quits, Lezlie agrees and we head up a short road to the small monastery located here. We’re the only ones here and it isn’t open yet and it feels deserted. The day is hot and that and my hip pain puts me in a foul mood. There is no wi-fi or store or anything else here but the monastery and after talking about it Lezlie persuades me to move on, keeping to the road until we reach Samos which isn’t that far away.
Samos lies at the juncture of two beautiful rivers, rio Oribio and rio Mino, postcard perfect with the monastery being the main focus of the town of about 2100 people. Samos has the oldest monastery in Europe, the whole town’s existence seems to be based on it.
We find a nice albergue over the top of the restaurant and bar located just past the first river leading into town and diagonal to one of the monastery buildings. Seven beds in our room but we’re the only ones here so far it and I think it likely to stay this way as most pilgrims do not come this way at all. I’m resting before dinner allowing my back to heal while Lezlie goes ‘walk about’. A very nice thing about this albergue is we have a great bathroom and shower with a real bathtub! The first we’ve seen so far. It is funny how little things can leave such an impression.
After a rest and shower we meet and have a good pilgrims meal for €10. Lezlie tells me she found an ATM just on the other side of the monastery where I should be able to get some cash so after dinner I walk to the other end of town where I am able to use the ATM to get enough money out for the next few days and to pay Lez back. It is a bit tricky using the ATM though because the sun is shinning directly on the screen making it a real pain trying to see what I was doing but it all worked out.
Three young men have joined us in the room while we were having dinner. Two of them go right to sleep, apparently they had a hard days walk. They seem to be Spanish and they don’t seem to understand English so no conversation takes place and we know nothing about them.
After dinner it’s pretty much bed time, I use Viber to contact Pat and I do some journaling. I sleep well.
July 22 Samos to Sarria – 17km
When we wake this morning the beds the three guys were using are empty, their clothes and packs and things are all there but they aren’t. I’m thinking they met up with others of the opposite sex, either that or my snoring drove them away - 50/50 as to what might have happened I think.
We are off shortly after 7, a pretty normal start time for us. The route through Samos is circular from our albergue going around the monastery through the town and back to the rivers. We follow the main road for the first couple of kilometers and then the camino heads off on its own, still a road for the most part but also as a single dirt track from time-to-time. What I thought was supposed to be an easy day that had no hills day turned out to be anything but. There are a lot of good roads for walking but a lot of it was hard uphill but no overall gain in elevation, just up and then down. We have no place to stop for the first 10K, no towns or villages but a few buildings, farms, etc. It is a very beautiful area here, very remote with a low lying fog hugging the hills for the first hour or so, postcard perfect I would say. At least the weather cooperates, there are low clouds, it is cool and damp but we end up doing a lot of sweating the last half hour or so once the sun breaks through.
We reach the main camino route about three hours into our walk and find a cafe on a road just off the camino route where we can finally get some breakfast. We are joined by two other peregrinos (guys) soon afterward, they don’t speak English so I really learn nothing about them. I have my usual breakfast - potato and egg omelet, bread and cafe con lecche. This cafe/bar is a beautiful spot for breakfast and was worth the wait, though just barely.
We’re off again after about 30 minutes and since the main route is so close to our cafe it’s not long before we’re on the main road into Sarria. Now that we’re on the main route we go by a albergue every kilometer or so it seems from nothing to everything it seems. This last hour and a half into Sarria is an easy walk along the road with perfect weather.
I know were are approaching the end of our camino because when walking through Sarria we pass a information office that is packed with people, soon-to-be peregrinos, picking up their passports for the first time which is not surprising since Sarria is the last place where you can start your camino and still get the compostella when you arrive in Santiago. That’s because it is the last city that is at least 100km from Santiago (111km) because in order to qualify for a compostella you have to had walked at least 100km.
There are over 25 albergues here in Sarria and the one we find is a new albergue that’s about midway into Sarria, not far from the River Sarria . We quickly check in, it looks great but it has issues as we soon learn. There is a cafe attached to this albergue which is very convenient. I spend an hour or so getting settled and cleaned up. Lez does the same then goes exploring. It is while wandering through the town that she meets a young boy who knows some English, she tells him she is a teacher and he introduces her to his family who, it turns out, are on camino and staying at our albergue.
I spend my time resting and enjoying a beer in the cafe. There is a small area of lawn in front of the albergue where I find, to my surprise, mint plants growing in the lawn. I know they’re mint because I tasted them. After a few hours Lez comes back and tells me of a great area along the river that is filled with restaurants and bars, very pretty she says. She also tells me were in for some steep hills heading out of town when we leave tomorrow morning. The riverside area sounds great so off we go in search of dinner. We find a place that specializes in pizza, we grab a table outside next to the river and enjoy a very good pizza overlooking the river filled with trout, ducks and a goose or two. It is a very pleasant and restful setting.
We go back to the albergue and find it is very hot in the room, there are windows but they don’t open and there is virtually no air circulating. We ask that the air conditioning be turned on and the host does and everything is great for about an hour or so when someone else ask that it be turned off. Lez waits awhile then again asks that it be turned on and so it goes. It turns out to be an uncomfortable night for sleeping.
The albergue holds about 40 people and it is filled by the time I go to sleep.
July 23 Sarria to Ferrarios – 13.3 km
People start waking at 5 am, we try to stay in bed until at least 6. We succumb to the noise of the ‘early birds’ (they do try to be quiet) and are up at 6am, gather our things together but because it is one large room there is no way to turn on lights without waking everyone so we grab our stuff and go out to the lobby area to pack. It’s a bit of a pain as I am going back and forth from my bunk to the lobby making sure I have everything.
After we have our packs done we go to the bar which has just opened and have a cafe and a pastry. Finally we’re off, a 7:10 AM start. Almost immediately there is a steep hill to climb, a climb that takes us to the main church in Sarria which, of course, has to be at the highest point of the town. On the way there we pass so many albergues, practically on every corner of the camino route with dozens and dozens of new pilgrims getting ready to join us on the camino. I’m sure we walked by more than 25 albergues as we make our way through Sarria. At the top of the hill, next to the church, there is a beautiful overlook of the city which we stop to admire.
We do a lot of climbing outside the city (we will have climbed more than 200 meters before the day is done) and after about 5 km we come onto a flat field after a especially hard time climb up a steep hill only to find a broad flat field of a number of different kinds of vegetables, totally unexpected by me. Also unexpected are two young women who hand us a clipboard with a form on it, the form claims they are deaf and dumb and need money to live. It tries to appear legitimate by having you print your name and amount donated. The only dumb people here would be anyone who gave these thieves anything. We had been warned about a week before we would come across these gypsies and not to give them a penny.
There are so many people on the path today! Literally hundreds of new peregrinos, most of them in organized groups. We are never out of sight or earshot of these Peregrino those who carry 2 1/2 pound day packs if they are carrying anything at all. I call them ‘day trippers’. After the days of solitude on the camino with only company we have chosen these new peregrinos annoy me, I do not enjoy listening to the noise of their conversations hour after hour. It is interesting, before starting my camino I had read about others who underwent this same annoyance with the peregrinos who begin at Sarria but I dismissed what they were saying. I now understand completely.
There is a wide range of people in these groups, one group of more than 100 people are a mixture of Downs Syndrome and other mental disabilities. There is one attendant for, it appears, every two of these peregrinos. It is hard for me to disparage them and the noise they make because they are so happy to be out on camino and they constantly wish us Buena camino. I don’t know how far they will be going, whether they will be going the full distance or just one day because we pass them after about 30 minutes and lose track of them. The other major groups are students and, believe it or not, what appears to be tour groups where the tour company carries your “stuff” to a pre-arranged stopping/starting place every day. At all our stops today we are constantly vying for a place to sit and relax because of the sheer numbers of new peregrinos. We stop at one of these bar/cafe’s after about 8 kilometers for coffee and a bite to eat. We vow to change our routine so we are not staying at same places along the ‘recommended’ albergues in the hope we’ll be able to get out of sync with these folks. I’m being overly critical, I know. Before today I can’t recall seeing more than one or two smokers on the whole camino but now I see 3 out of 5 of these new peregrinos who smoke. Well, enough about them.
After 11 kilometers we come across the “Official” 100 km marker that signifies the last starting point where you qualify to a compostella. It is a wooded area in the middle of nowhere. For some reason I was expecting it would be surrounded by some kind of commercialism, but, no, it sits by itself in the middle of nowhere. The poor marker is full of graffiti and in bad shape. Of course everyone, us included, have to stop and have our photo taken. Unfortunately, both of our photos are blurred! We should have checked them before moving on. Oh well.
We go on for another couple of kilometers to Ferreiros, a place all by itself, an albergue and cafe. The albergue is new and sits up on a hill overlooking the camino and a beautiful valley that stretches for kilometers and the cafe/bar which is much older and sits right on the camino. This albergue has a laundry room that is downstairs, a number of outdoor clotheslines and a great sitting room that has two doors when opened allow a great breeze to come through though I do have a bit of a problem keeping them open. Our room has 12 bunk beds and one single bed that I choose to begin with but I soon find out the slats holding the mattress keep slipping out so I move over to a bed right by the window, the bottom one of course.
After getting settled we walk down to the cafe, it has an outdoor patio with tables on both sides of the building. We walk into the very small bar where we registered when we first got here and find it filled with locals, all laughing and having a good time sitting around two long tables. Looking around I see this cafe has both a computer and printer, the first place we have been at to have both, stuffed into this very small bar area. I put my two euros in and logon to Ryanair’s web site and print our tickets, thank God. With Ryanair you have to wait 30 days before the flight leaves to print out your tickets and because we were just arriving in Spain on the 30th day I could not print the tickets beforehand and had been looking for a computer that had a printer. To say I was getting concerned would be a bit of an understatement!
There is not a lot for Lez to do, no exploring but that seems to be okay with her today. She meets a number of pilgrims that are coming through and have stopped for a rest or to stay and spends her time introducing herself and learning about them and then on her phone texting and emailing for her business. I return to the albergue and am in the sitting room ‘Vibing’ Pat and writing in my journal trying to keep the doors open so the breeze comes through but it is the same breeze that wants to keep the doors shut! The breeze wins and one door is open, the other shut. I have a great view of the camino and the peregrinos walking by from here when I see one young lady, on her own, walking by who spots me in the window and waves at me, I wave back and then she blows me a kiss. She keeps on going pass our albergue so I don’t meet her but I’ll never forget that, it so truly signifies the spirit of the camino for me.
One of the people who does show up is Dorothy, the German woman we met a couple of days ago in Fonfria where we had that great dinner. I really like Dorothy and after she gets settled we get together and she gives us all sorts of help and tips about where to stay during the next seven days. I forgot to mention, this is her third camino so her tips are welcomed. She’s a very nice lady, one of those people you’d like to get to know more about and I never really do.
That’s all for today, we do laundry, have dinner with Dorothy out on the patio next to the camino that is okay, the dinner that is, a salad and calamari with a glass of wine. It is a very pleasant and warm evening.
No other worries, now just one day at a time. When we get back to the albergue from dinner we find the albergue is filled, over-filled as there are a half dozen or so peregrinos who have laid out their sleeping bags in the sitting room. We bring in our laundry off the clothesline and get things ready for tomorrow and then off to sleep.
A good day.
July 24 Ferrerios to Hospital de Cruz – 20.8 km
Today starts out pretty good, the camino is all down hill for the first 9 kilometers but once outside of Portomarin we come to some real nasty hills, especially right out of Portomarin. Making it easier is the beauty and the people. How often can I say this? Not enough, not enough.
Going downhill is much harder on the body than is going uphill. It is harder on your knees, your ankles and your hips. Given a choice I will take going up a steep hill every time over going down a steep hill! Just before Portomarin we are passed by a young couple who zig zag their way down hill. It looks like it might be easier so Lezlie and I decide to try it and it is easier, at least it seems so at the time.
Most of the places we pass today are just one or two dwellings, three at the most and there are no cafes or stores. At 3.5 km we come to Mercadoiro where there is a private albergue and where just before I take one of my favourite photos of the camino. (This shot is taken by a lot of pilgrims I find out later.) We stop briefly for something to eat and a coffee.
We reach Portomarin, a good sized town that sits on a hill and as we cross the lake we’re looking at this climb into the town and this big stairway that is the first part of the town entrances. We look at our Brierley guide that shows yes, the camino goes up throught the town but there is also a shortcut that circumvents the town and therefore the 75-100 meter climb into it and saves a kilometer of walking. We look at each and it takes about 2 seconds to decide there is nothing in Portomarin that we need or want to see that is worth going up that hill and then right down again when we can go 100 meters and continue onto the camino. Besides, shortly after crossing the river that feeds the lake we have a serious 100+ meter hill to climb so why do two in a row when we don’t have to?
After three hours my right foot starts aching and then the tendon on my right side of my leg is quite painful. I tell Lezlie that I want to stop at Grozo and she says she wants to continue walking. So I tell her she could go on and I would see her at the airport in Santiago on Saturday.She stays and after 10 or so minutes I say my legis settling down and I will continue on to our next stop, Hospital Delde Cruz.
When we get here we find it is a plain municipal albergue, well kept, modern and no one here, the doors are locked. After about an hour the staff arrive and we check in we find it has a kitchen which is great if there was a store around, but, there is not. It is one big room, a dormitory, with beds stacked next to each other as close as possible to fit as many peregrinos as possible, like every municipal we’ve stayed at. There isno Wi-Fi here either which is annoying for Lez but there is wi-fi at the restaurant next door so all is not lost.
Therestaurant next to the Muni looks attractive and wehead over to get something to eat. There is a large local crowd having a meal that smells and looks wonderful, the staff and owner pretty well ignored usas we enter which I suppose is understandable, wanting to take care of the locals before the Peregrinos. We ask when dinner is and are told it will be at 7:30. We are able to get a beer and some chips but that is all. We go back in the eveningand the food is fine but the owner’s attitude needs a major adjustment, he’s sullen and seems to be tolerating us at best. I guess everyone has a bad night.
The albergue is full, and I sleep fine. Before going to sleep we meet a lady from the US who is a veterinarian. She is quite a talker and swears like a trooper but otherwise very nice and helpful. One of the things she tells us about herself is she knows how to do acupuncture. I tell her about the pain I am having and she offers to use acupuncture to help me out. I talk to Pat using Viber and shetells me I should go for it. I tell her I’d like to try it and she proceeds to insert several needles into various parts of my leg. They are left in for about 30 minutes. It had no noticeable effect but I don’t tell her that, just smile and thank her for helping me.
July 25 Hospital del Cruz to San Xubian – 16.9 km
We’re up early this morning, couldn’t help it a lot of peregrinos are up and about and being in a dorm and with my bed next to the entrance to the dorm and bathroom I am woken up by people coming and going. They are quiet as possible, polite but they’re up and so are we. We pack up our beds and clothes and go downstairs to the kitchen area where we eat some of the food we bought the day before. No coffee here, no cafe and so we’re eager to get going. This is the first time we start out at 6:30 while it is dark, cloudy and cool a day. I would welcome a light jacket right about now.
The walk is pretty good, easy along the highway with no major issues just the usual aches and pains that are all a part of it. After about 1.5 km we come to Ventas de Naron where there are a couple of bars/cafe and our morning coffee! It seems everyone who had gotten up early have stopped here too. From here our next stop is Airexe about 4 km on. At Lestedo there is another bar that is not open but it has these metal sculptures of giant ants, quite a sight. It isn’t long before we are through Rosario and entering the largest town we see today, Palas de Rei. We see a lot of these boxes on the side of the road that have a mirror at the bottom of them (see photo) and we spend quite some time trying to figure out what they are and finally decide they must be some sort of lighting for the road. On our way into Palas de Rei we pass a park with a football field and see people loading vans with camping equipment it seems that one of the high school groups had stayed here last night and were now leaving. Other than picking up a few things from a market we don’t stop here. Outside of Palas de Rei we walk through quite a few eucalyptus groves. I love the smell of them. I learn later they use them to make paper.
We arrive at our next destination, San Xulian do Camino at 11:45 AM. The albergue opens at noon, it is a small one, quite pleasant so we pay our €10 and do our usual unpacking, (there are only six beds in our room) shower and hand cleaning of clothes and then have lunch in the company of a couple of hens and a parade of bovine. Just before lunch I see our friend Dorothy walking into the hamlet so I wave and say hello and ask her where she is staying tonight she says “here if there is room” and there is and she’s here. Lezlie and I both like her.
There is a group of young Americans who know each other from earlier on the Camino and have met up here with lots of loud talking and laughing. Us old farts drift off to be where it is quieter after a short bit. I meet a German fellow my age who is doing his seventh or eighth Camino. I don’t know the whole story but at one point he was very sick about 10 years ago. It sounds like he made a promise to God to do this in return for his health. I’m not sure what happened, he didn’t go into details, and no one pushes him.
Dinner is a grand communal dinner, the second one we’ve had with everyone around two tables. The young ones have gathered around one table and there are eight of us 40+ years at the other. I sit next to a really neat couple from Wales, she is a teacher and he builds oil tankers and oil rigs. I didn’t ask specifics. But what a great couple! They have traveled all over the world and he speaks five languages including Korean having worked there while building ships. They had lived just north of Santiago a couple of years ago. I found out they have two girls 17 and 19-years old. They are very smart and handsome couple. He has the type of eyes that always appear to be laughing. Besides being a teacher she is a runner and does marathons, he doesn’t until one day… she had registered for one that has a very limited entry and one she didn’t think she’d get in so she was quite surprised to get a letter saying he was successfully entered but not her. He had never done a marathon in his life but they talked to the race organizers about the error and instead of him dropping out they got her accepted too so they trained together and he did his first marathon.
This is a great dinner, great people and evening and sleep comes easy after some “vibing” with Pat.
July 26 San Xulian to Boente – 17 km
We’re up and packing at 6am, our roommates are still sleeping so we gather our things as quietly as possible and move outside to the courtyard. There are only a few of us getting ready to leave right now. The young people are still asleep for the most part - we can see them in another room from the courtyard. At 7:10 we are ready to go, it is a cloudy day as we start. For the first hour we walk through some pretty farm country located about half way between where we stayed and Meline about five kilometers from our start. This is a pretty area and while the road has a lot of ups and downs and some are pretty steep none are of any great length so are quite alright.
Today there are a lot of school kids on the Camino, very loud and boisterous, having fun as teenagers seem to do when together. We really notice them when we stop at Pereirina for cafe and a snack. This cafe’s only reason for being seems to be a stop for peregrinos as far as I can see. This place is so crowded we have to wait to find a table and then stand in line to get food and to use the bathroom. Boy, do I want to be as far away as possible from groups like this and their noise! It’s great they’re doing this but I really prefer the solitude over the noise. One of the saving graces of this place is the view from the patio is terrific, a large open field with a home in the distance, very pretty.
We continue on and after about 10km we enter Furelos over a beautiful stone bridge and through the old section of the town. We have our passports stamped at a neat old church, Parroquia San Juan, located just after we cross the bridge. If you look closely at this photo you'll see two priest-in-training walking ahead of us. A short distance from Furelos is Melide where we stop and buy some food to carry with us for the times we take breaks when there are no cafe’s.
My right tendon is quite sore so we decide to veer off the camino and follow a highway into Boente so as to not stress it further. Our plan is to stop at Boente which is about six kilometers from where we bought our food because it is not a major stopping point so is not likely to have many peregrinos staying there.
It is now about 20 degrees, nice and warm with blue skies overhead. We rejoin the camino just outside of Boente and find a albergue about 100 meters into it. It is now noon. Our albergue is above a bar on a busy road but it has lots of windows and just 7 people in our section one of whom, Lindsay, is someone we first met on our third day in Estella! It is really neat the way you meet then leave and meet people again and again on the camino.
Since we are among the first to arrive we get the best beds, ones right under the windows. We unpack and get cleaned up, the usual routine. We go down to the bar and grab some lunch at a small patio at the back of the bar and find there is a small pool in the backyard of the albergue. A number of people are swimming and sunning themselves. There are so many different people on camino, we see a small group of about five people one who is physically and handicapped, Cerebral Palsy I think and is in a motorized wheelchair and another young woman who while mobile is mentally handicapped. They are being escorted and cared for by the others. This is not a one-off occurrence, we saw similar people just outside Sarria and I think it is great that everyone can be a part of The Way.
We are now just over 40 km from Santiago and our plan is to be there Tuesday morning. I have to admit I am so looking forward to this being over.
It’s 4:30 now and we ask Lindsay and a young woman from Latvia, her name may be Victoria, I can’t recall, to join us at the patio for dinner. She’s good company and she’s in great shape, thinks nothing of walking 30 to 40 km a day and if that weren’t enough she runs down the hills!
After dinner I do some journaling and use Viber to ‘talk’ with Pat when I hear some music outside, very noisy and busy at what appears to be a celebration which seems likely since today is the Feast of St. James. It looks like it started at the church across the way from us and the procession is carrying a statue of St. James on a platform while others are playing bagpipes, yes, bagpipes. I don't know what the tradition is surrounding bagpipes in northwestern Spain but it is quite a surprise to see, though not the first time we’ve seen them (that being in Ponferrada). There are young and old in the procession and they head up past our albergue following a route unknown to me that I’m sure will end up at another church.
I go to sleep around 10 and sleep is great from 10 PM to 2:53 AM. I know it is 2:53 because I check my watch when I go to the bathroom and notice there are a lot of people partying outside our window, very loudly. It must be a continuation of the celebration of St. James. I go back to bed and listen to this for 30 to 45 minutes before they stop. Now I hear the traffic outside our window, very loud cars traveling fast. If that is not enough a dog starts barking for at least 45 minutes nonstop. To top it off there is a church across the street which rings its bell every half hour and hour. I get an additional hour of sleep before the sun rises.
It is not a good night for rest.
July 27 Boente to Salceda – 19.5 km
Everyone is up early this morning, I think I wasn’t the only one who did not get enough sleep. Victoria, the young woman who walks so fast is up and gone in less than 20 minutes! We start at 7 AM and it is a clear day getting very warm as the day goes on, the saving graces is there are a lot of shaded areas along the road and I have my pills for the pain. We stop at a couple of bars along the way for refreshment (snacks coffee etc.) and there are the usual assortment of long hills with their ups and downs because of the small river valleys that cover the area but it is bearable. The trail today is mostly void of places to stop and rest.
We go through the last big town before Santiago, Arzua, after a steep climb and being it is Sunday we are surprised at the number of businesses that are open as Sunday’s usually mean almost everything is closed, but since this is a good sized town there is more competition to stay open. Going through Arzua is different than most places we’ve gone through as it has a long main street the camino follows before turning off to the more typical camino path. I find a pharmacy here and get some ibuprofen creme to help with the pain in my hip. I didn’t know such a thing existed but Dorothy had told me about it the other day so I decided to try it. I’m glad I did.
We are following paths a lot today, not often on roads which is more relaxing mentally but not quite as easy as when walking on roads. When walking on roads you rarely have short, steep inclines but with paths you will find it happens regularly.
Our original plan is to stop at Casa Calzada but we’re feeling pretty good so we decide to keep going. After another hour we decide we will stop at Salceda if there is an albergue that is open as we are both tired after 19km. We arrive in Salceda at 1 pm and discover a very lively bar at the beginning of this hamlet with a lot of young people and loud music. We inquire about whether they are an albergue and find they are not, they tell us there is one down the road a bit. We find it but it is closed so we walk further to where there are a couple of bars but no more albergues so we walk back to the one that is closed and wait for it to open at 1:30, the operator/owner is late and the albergue doesn’t open until 1:50 pm. This albergue that we’re staying at “El Albergue de Boni” looks to have been an abandoned two story building recently that has been re-purposed into an albergue. It has it’s good and bad points, the bad is you have to go outdoors to use to the showers and they are plainly constructed in a hurry and on the cheap. There are three unisex toilets downstairs in the building with all the wiring and plumbing in plain sight. The whole place has a poor paint job done on the interior and exterior. The good? A room to ourselves for €10, a kitchen which would be useful if there were a store around or if we had food to cook and it’s our second to last night. Plus the scenery is pretty and there is what appears to be a good restaurant down the road about 300m.
The way this building is laid out is the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, boot area and living room are all downstairs while the rooms are all upstairs.
We unpack, shower and do laundry using the washer and hanging our clothes on the drying lines. There is nowhere for Lezlie to explore in this little hamlet but the place is filling up rather quickly so there are a lot of people to talk to and she does. I do my ‘Vibering’ with Pat in the livingroom watching and listening to a family consisting of two children, a boy and a girl about 10 years old as they play a game on their tablet as their mother reads.
We decide to go the bar that is furthest away and that looked so good to have dinner and it turns out to be a great choice, there is no peregrino menu here so we order off the menu and have a mixed salad, octopus, wine and a three chocolate dessert that is terrific, we finished with a coffee and head back for journaling and sleep.
Tomorrow we plan on our longest walk of 24 km to Monte del Gozo, an abandoned repurposed military base that has been made into a municipal albergue that is about 4.5 km before Santiago. Several people have told us we must stop here before going on to Santiago so that’s what we’re going to do. I’m journaling now so that’s it for today.
July 28 – Salceda to Monte del Gozo 23.2 km
Two more days and we’ll be in Santiago, I can’t wait for all sorts of reasons, the main one being I’ll be going home.
Today’s weather is great, mid-20’s, cloudy with a light rain half the time. We can go into Santiago today but we have told by several people that we should stay in Monte del Gozo so that is our goal today, about 24km from here. We leave around 7am and while we don’t anticipate any great climbs I can see we will be going up and down (mostly down) today on the camino. As we walk and get closer to Santiago I start pointing out the distance markers beginning with 25 which is just outside the village of Brea. We are walking in forest of broad leaf trees today and mostly on dirt paths until we get closer to Monte del Gozo.
We stop for something to eat in Empalme at a very nice bar we find soon after walking into this village (which is along a busy highway leading to Santiago) right after coming off a dirt path. We are hungry and find the breakfast menu very limited, I have coffee and banana, one half of a tostada with cheese. There are quite a few pilgrims stopping here and at another cafe across the street.
We continue on heading back onto a dirt path soon after leaving Empalme. Just before Santa Irene we find another cafe with an outdoor seating area at the beginning of a very steep hill. We decide this is a good place for a second breakfast stop. I have coffee and apple cake with an Aquarius chaser outside on the patio. We are joined on the patio by a half dozen other German pilgrims who had met earlier on the camino and from their greetings haven’t seen one another in a few days. We spend about a half an hour here before tackling the hill that lies behind this bar.
We walk on pointing out the markers as they grow smaller. Just outside of Amenal we come to the 15km marker and Lezlie decides this is the place where she’ll put the stones her fourth grade students gave her to leave on the camino. She’s been carrying these since we arrived. They are all marked with numbers, each number correspond to a student and there are over 20 of them. Just past Amenal we come to a tunnel on which pilgrims have written many greetings and names and where one person has left a poem, whether it is an original one or not I cannot say but it is a good one and Lezlie photographs it capturing the writers first name but not his last. The poem goes like this:
The Way of Saint James is dust and mud, sun and rain trod by pilgrims in the thousands for more than a thousand years.
Pilgrim, whose voice is calling you?
What hidden force leads you on?
Not the stars of the Milky Way.
Nor the lure of great cathedrals.
It’s not the wild heart of Navarre,
nor the shellfish of Galicia,
nor the rich Riojan wines
nor the broad Castilian fields.
Pilgrim, whose voice is calling you?
What hidden force leads you on?
Not the people on your way,
nor the customs of the land.
Not the history or the culture,
Not the cock of La Calzada,
nor the palace of Gaudi,
nor the castle of Ponferrada.
All this I see with pleasure and, having seen, pass by. But for me the voice that calls comes, I feel, from deep inside.
The force that drives me on I can never explain or show. The force that draws me – only the One above can know.
On we go through what I think is the prettiest forest we’ve seen on and off the camino and it is along a steep uphill that we meet a very interesting group of people, the one who stands out is a young man in a electric wheelchair who has Cerebral Palsy and is wearing a t-shirt that reads “Where the fuck is that arrow?” a not-so-obtuse reference to the yellow arrow of the camino. He and his mother are Spanish, they have four others with them, two of which are from other countries and though I am not certain they appear to be native from either Australia or New Zealand. They have to stick to the bike route because of his wheelchair needing to keep to the roads. Lezlie spends quite a bit of time with them while I prefer to walk alone today.
At Vilamaior, a private albergue, bar and cafe we stop for lunch. I have a 3.5″ x 3.5″ piece of the bologna lasagna with a beer. Here we meet two of the German pilgrims we had seen earlier at our first stop. As with most Germans their English is just about perfect and we spend a nice half hour or so talking to them on the outdoor patio while eating. This is their second time for doing the camino. As we are leaving we find the young man in the wheelchair and his supporters having lunch inside the cafe. Lez talks with them for a bit while I pay for lunch, this is one of the few places that takes credit cards and to preserve my cash I take advantage of that.
We are now less than ten kilometers from Santiago, five from Monte del Gozo and the camino takes us past the airport and where just before we meet up with an older man who has been on camino for a couple of months and who plans to continue on past Santiago. He and I walk and talk together for a couple of kilometers before parting company on the path at the foot of a runway (actually, the runway is above us at the top of a hill, we are walking at the base of that hill before climbing up and onto a paved road that leads to Monte del Gozo).
In about an hour of walking along a paved road and a bit of a climb we come to Monte del Gozo, a village that was once, not very long ago, a large military base. Now it is a large albergue with shops and cafes and restaurants and 400 beds costing just 5 euros and with eight beds to a room. We walked up to the village but down about 200 meters to the base which is atop a hill and overlooks Santiago. There is a very large sculpture here at the top of the hill of what I’m not sure. It is very busy at the check-in desk and it takes about 30 minutes to get assigned a room. We’re lucky, our room is in the same building as the check-in desk, just a few meters away from the desk actually and it has 3 bunks and a single bed which I grab. Lezlie prefers ones by windows and she grabs an upper bunk next to the window. There are a lot of pilgrims here including several groups of young high school students which are all housed in separate buildings from us. After getting settled in we decide to have another lunch, lunch because it is about 2pm, not quite dinner time. Lez has walked around the base and found the plaza area where the cafe and other commercial businesses are. We walk by a dozen or more barracks headed downhill to get to this area and we choose the cafe (the restaurant is not yet open) and I have a hamburger and a beer. Afterward I head back to our room to write and contact Pat and Lezlie heads into the village to explore it. While she is gone we are joined by two ladies, both on camino by themselves. Lucy is from Montreal, the other one who’s name I did not get as her English was very limited and she kept to herself is from either Spain or Italy, we’re not sure.
I have dinner with Lucy who is a pro photographer, she started her camino in Sarria. She is a good dinner companion and we talk about photography and Montreal. She tells me she is a single woman who almost married “the love of her life” after going out with him for just eight weeks. He died of an aneurysm just before they were to go on vacation together to South America and she is still upset about it.
We go back to the room and are soon asleep only to be awaken by our unnamed roommate who suffers with a horrid coughing fit, maybe she has a cold or flue, I don’t know but she won’t cover her mouth when she coughs which is driving me crazy! If that weren’t bad enough, Lucy has bad dreams that cause her to cry out loudly off and on during the night waking both Lezlie and I. Our sleep is pretty much ruined this night.
July 29 Monte del Gozo to Santiago – 4.7 km
The morning is beautifully clear and just a bit nippy. We leave at 7 am because we do not want to spend any more time with our two roommates. We had planned on sleeping in but that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t take long to reach the city limits, the path is easy, downhill on a paved road through quiet neighborhoods, just a perfect ending to our journey. No more hills and just 4.7 km to the Cathedral from the Army base and 3.6 km to our final albergue, Fin Del Camino, eight euros per night where we’ll be for two nights. At the official entrance to the city there is the city sign with much graffetti and where there are groups of pilgrims lining up to take photos of themselves and the signs. We join the others and have several photos taken, grateful to be here.
Once in the city it takes us awhile to find an open cafe and when we do it is clearly one for the local workers, the people who came to this little cafe do so every morning. I have a coffee and a cinnamon bun both are very good. It’s a different feeling being in Santiago than it was in the other big cities, Leon and such, most likely because it is the end of our camino.
It doesn’t take long to find our albergue, a church run albergue, just off the Camino about 100 meters down a small hill. We arrive around 8:00 am and though the albergue is not yet officially open for new pilgrims to sign in we’re really surprised at the reception we get, they take our packs and put them away in a locked room and tell us to wait to pay until we get back from the cathedral. We walk another two kilometers to the cathedral following the yellow arrows into the city, most of which are easy to see even in this busy and crowded city. It takes us about 30 minutes to reach the cathedral.
Just before the entrance to the cathedral we run into Molly, the young lady we met four nights ago. She has already gotten her compostella and volunteers to take us to the little office where they are handed out. To get there we walk through the great plaza outside of the main entrance where there are a hundred or more pilgrims and visitors greeting each other, taking photos and smiling. We made it. The cathedral is undergoing a renovation on the main entrance and is wrapped in scaffolding and plastic. Not very picturesque but an incredible sight nonetheless. As we walk to the office we pass a very unusual building, well, the building itself isn’t that unusual but it has statues on each of several balconies on each of its’ three stories that are. While in line we meet another person whom we haven’t seen since our first day. It’s great the way you keep coming across the same people all along the Camino. It takes about 20 minutes of waiting before our turn to get our compostella, it is a pretty quick process, we are asked where we started from, if we had walked more than 100 km and they look at both of our passports, my Canadian and the much rain damaged camino passport.
After taking lots of photos we decide to have breakfast and find a small cafe just across from the compostella office and around the corner from the cathedral. While we are eating Lez says she really wishes we would see Dorothy again and 15 minutes later I turn my head and guess who? Dorothy is walking right by our table! Amazing. We hug and invite her to have breakfast with us. She does and tells us she is going on to Finesterra, walking the whole way, another three days. We learn she’ll be going to the pilgrims mass before leaving for Finesterra and maybe she’ll see us there too? And we do.
The pilgrims mass is a full house. We get very good seats in hopes the Botafumeiro would be in play though we have no idea if it will be, it depends on whether there is a sponsor for it. Apparently there are only two days during the week when it will be in play because of the cost involved so unless there is a sponsor for a particular mass you never know if you’ll see it. We’re lucky, it is part of today’s mass. There are a couple of emotional moments for me during the mass, what I have done finally hits home. I video the Botafumeiro ceremony and while I have no idea how well the video part will turnout I’m sure the sound will be good. After Mass we decide to go back to the Albergue and get signed in, we do and go about our usual routines of laundry and have a shower.
I rest for the balance of the afternoon at the albergue (although we do walk about a half of a kilometer or so to a large shopping center where we buy wine, tuna, fruit and things like that). We have lunch from the things we picked up and will be doing the same for dinner. After eating dinner we meet Pai, a 72-year-old Chinese gentleman who was born in the Philippines and has lived in the US, England, Ireland, Spain and other places. He’s married to an Irish woman and has a son and owns homes in both London and Dublin. Every year he volunteers at this albergue during the summer and has done the camino two or three times. He likes to talk and dispenses advice whether asked for or not. He’s a great guy and we really like him, as a matter of fact, everyone at this church run Albergue is great.
We talk with Pai for an hour or more when he calls over and introduces us to a young Chinese girl by the name of Kia Wen who has been studying in Madrid and has just gotten her Masters in finance though she says she doesn’t really like finance. She is 22 years old, beautiful and very smart – and confused. She wants to stay in Spain and has met a 32-year-old Portuguese man she really likes but doesn’t know what to do. We talk with her for two hours, the three of us, and basically advise her to follow her heart, live today, plan for tomorrow but stay present. And then I go to bed while a group of peregrinos break out a guitar and sing songs to which I fall asleep to.
It’s been a good day.
July 30 Finisterre
We took our time getting up this morning as we are going to take the bus to Finisterre, which is at the end of the world. The cost is €23 return each and is supposed to take 2.25 hours and will be stopping at every village along the way. The Atlantic Ocean is very beautiful, in direct contrast to the comfort level of this bus.
When we finally get to Finisterre I am sorely disappointed, it is a tourist trap with all that entails. It is a pretty setting with fishing boats and a working dock but it has high prices and lots of tinsel. It is not like the movie at all in fact there is very little about this trip that is like the movie. I wander a bit about town and then have lunch at a German run restaurant, a turkey schnitzel which is quite good with a large beer, even better. We arrived at 12:45 and the next bus is scheduled to leave at 3 PM – neither of us can wait.
I wander around some more and run into Lezlie who has been exploring the town, she tells me she found a small beach area and points to where it is so I go there I walk into the Atlantic Ocean, it is very cool. The water is so clear that from 100 feet away I can see the fish swimming in the shallows.
3 PM finally comes and we head back to Santiago. On the way back I see a bird, a large bird, duck its head into the water catching a fish in the shallows and he tosses up, catches it again and swallows it whole. I’ve never seen such a thing in a while before. Also on the way back I see a number of houses that have lemon and lime trees in the garden, first I’ve seen. Oh yes, while in Finisterre we ran into our girl from Latvia, the one who walks so fast. She had just arrived after having stopped for a day in Santiago in the making it to Finisterre and just three days.
After we get off the bus and walk back to the albergue and I notice that I had a lot of bites on my skin. I am thinking they came from the bus seats! I have seven bites around my belly button alone. Both Lezlie and I think this was a waste of time and money going to Finisterre.
We have a light dinner of salad cheese and wine and we talked to a young woman from Laramie, Wyoming for a while before going to bed a very charming young lady.
July 31 Santiago
Woke up at about 5 o’clock and was thinking about coming home in a couple days. Got up around 7:30 and we packed and we caught a bus to take us in the Santiago and the room
we rented just a few blocks from the Cathedral. It took us a little while to find the apartment but we did and it’s great. The elevator that takes you to the top floor only holds two people maybe three, it’s a very small elevator.
Didn’t do much of anything in the afternoon, we had lunch and at 5 o’clock we went over to get our Compostela from St. Francis of Assisi Church which is right next to, well, about 100m from, the Cathedral. I placed the card with my late brother John’s photo (with my mom) and poem in this church instead of the Cathedral as we had planned because there wasn’t any place in the Cathedral that seemed appropriate and here there was. My sister-in-law chose the photo and poem and was very pleased that we placed the card there.
The priest was very nice and invited us to evening mass. I really liked this church.
We had a light dinner in the room and just relaxed. Afterward I went into the market area and picked up a few things to bring home and I took a few more photos of the outside of the Cathedral, the side entrances etc. I was so bored, this is terrible and I should have been shot for it, I went to Euro King for dinner. That’s Burger King but in Spain. Sigh, I know.
August 1 Santiago Day 2
This morning I go looking for a market to buy some groceries it is hidden, well, not really but it is so integrated into the old buildings that I have a hard time finding it even though it is really right close by, less than 50 meters from our B&B. I then go and look for and find the bus stop that will take us to the airport tomorrow morning - it is literally right around the corner from the apartment as advertised. I go back to the room and grab Lezlie and we go into town and have coffee and my last egg and potato omelet. Lunch for today will be bread and cheese and the wine that I bought last night for dinner.
During the afternoon I wander around the neighborhood we’re in and find a wonderful park a couple of blocks from where we are. It is full of people walking the wide paths, having picnics and generally enjoying a casual day. One part of this park overlooks the cathedral and I take the opportunity to take a number of photos.
Lez is off shopping and taking in the sights, I go looking for a kiosk that sells newspapers, English-language newspapers to be exact. I find a nice one not too far away and I grab a copy of the Daily Mail direct from London. I want to read something written in English because other than the Brierley book there has been nothing for me to read. I spend the afternoon reading the paper and then wandering around looking for a few more gifts, one for Patti especially. I find a bracelet that I think she would like and I take a photo of it, sending it to her using Viber. She likes it so I buy it for along with a couple of coffee mugs and a few trinkets, fridge magnets. For dinner we go out and have our last grand dinner, I choose my favourite, the calamari and salmon and it is very good, a good last meal in Santiago.
Back at the apartment we pack up and make ready to leave first thing in the morning, around 5 AM. While I am sad to go I’m also happy to go and I’m really looking forward to being at home.
August 2 Santiago to Madrid to Chicago to Portland
I’ve been up since 3:00 am, not sure if it is because I am anxious about getting home or just general restlessness. I finally get out of bed at 4:30 shower, have something to eat and get my pack ready for the last time. We have to be at the bus stop at 6:00 am and we are. There are about a dozen or so folks already here with their packs and there is a line-up of taxi’s taking the locals home as the bars are finally closing! I saw at least 30 locals grabbing an endless number of cabs most quite inebriated and having a grand time. Our bus finally arrives a bit after 6:00 am and we begin the 45 minute journey to the airport making a dozen stops along the way.
We have no trouble boarding the Ryanair plane – once it got there, it is 15 minutes late. There is always a bit of madness when you fly on Ryanair or any similar budget airline in Europe where you have to cross the tarmac as there is no “normal” gate. Since we had purchased assigned seats we were one of the first onboard and our seats are in the third row which is great. The flight was fine, about an hour long.
We get to Madrid and the madness begins. If we had arrived on time we would have had about two hours to board our plane, but, since we are late it is only natural that everything that could go wrong would. And it did. First off the arrival terminal and the departure terminals are about four kilometers apart so we had to find the bus departure point, get on and get over to Terminal Four. Once there we find there six ticket windows open to service over 400 passengers all trying to get on Iberia Airlines at 8:00 am. The lines are huge and we’re at the back and panicking. Lez decides to see if there is another way we can check in while I stay in this incredibly long line. After 15 minutes I’ve moved 10 feet andnow I am panicked. Lez is nowhere to be seen. I talk to an Iberian representative who suggest I try the automated ticket line which is three sections over. Of course there is a line-up there too and the people who were trying to make it work didn’t understand how to use the machine. After ten minutes of this I go back to the original ticket area and the representative I talked to previously who told me my sister was looking for me but he had no idea where she was. We have less than an hour to get our boarding passes, go through customs and security and then find our gate/plane. I finally see Lez and she says Iberia has just opened some more ticket gates and so we go hunting for the new gates. I find one that is not for our flight but I figure, what-the-hell as there is only one group in front of me and they are just finishing I’m going here. I see Lez in another line and I yell to her to come over as the Iberia ticket agent takes my paper ticket and processes it and prints up our boarding pass. We now have less than 30 minutes. He says we’re not going to make it. I say we’re going to run and we do, first to customs where we cut into line as unobtrusively as we can. The first hurdle is done, 20 minutes and security to go. We run to security and that takes another five minutes. We find out our gate is at the farthest end of the terminal (naturally). There are no moving sidewalks at Madrid International so we run, up the escalators (there are three of them) and down the long corridors before we arrive at our gate. There are no other passengers waiting to get on, we are the last, sweating profusely we board the plane five minutes before take-off.
Since we did not have assigned seats Lez is in one section and I in another. I’m in the middle row, middle seats with no leg room. And, of course, the young boy in front of me decides to put his seat in the reclined position which makes awful legroom into no legroom. I ask him to put his seat up and he does for an hour then puts it down once again. I tell him this time to put his seat up to almost the upright position and he does and there is just enough room that my legs can move and I can put the table down.
The only good aspects of this seven hour flight is a delightful young woman sitting next to me and the service/amenities. She is from Indiana but studying in Madrid to get her PhD in Spanish language studies. She has one year left, is 26 years old and will be one of the youngest professors to have graduated with a PhD. She has been studying there for two years and gives me a lot of great insight to the Spanish people and customs. We talk for about three hours before I try to take a nap. I manage to nap for an hour or so in between meals and a movie.
I have to get up and walk around several times during the flight but, it is finally over and we are landing at Chicago O’Hare airport. We have an hour an a half to get to our connecting flight which should not be a problem since we don’t have to go through security anymore and we are pre-cleared for customs. Departing the plane takes awhile as we are at the rear of the plane but since we have only carry-on luggage we don’t have any delays in getting off. It does take five minutes to find out where we have to go to get to the departure terminal and we do. There is a tram that goes from arrivals to departures and Idecide to get rid of some of the unneeded papers I was carrying from the two previous flights. I find a trash bin just before we board the tram which takes about ten minutes to the departure terminal. As we get off an escalator from the tram stop I ask Lez if she has our boarding passes. She has hers but not mine, she had given me mine. I look all over before I realize I probably threw it away! I tell her to go on ahead and I rush back to the tram, board one heading back from where we came. I now have 15 minutes before boarding begins, 30 minutes before take-off! I get off the tram, head over to the trash can and to my relief I see the papers I thrown away and sure enough, my boarding pass is there. I return to the tram and make it to the gate just before boarding began. Another disaster averted.
The flight to Portland was uneventful and I nap for another hour or so. We arrive in Portland around 6:00 PM and call the company that is storing our cars. It takes about 30 minutes for them to come and get us taking us back to their yard where our cars were. They used Lez’s car to pick us up in so once there I hug Lez goodbye, thanking her and she heads for her friend’s house in Medford and I to our brothers in Monmouth, Oregon. I make it to their place around 9 pm having stopped in Salem to get something to eat. We talk for a couple of hours before I beg off to get some sleep.
I have been awake for over 22 hours and it’s been a rough day, one more day and I’m home!