Here are our posts from our 33-day trek on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (April/May 2013):
- The journey begins: Camino de Santiago
Camino Frances: The Way of St. James
Last summer, Sue and I watched The Way, starring Martin Sheen. The film follows Sheen's character on his nearly 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain to Santiago.
His backpacking odyssey was meant to honor his son (played by his real-life son Emilio Estevez), who had died in the Pyrenees Mountains on his solo trip on the ancient path.
The journey is an awakening for Sheen's character in many ways.
“Great film,” I said afterward.
“We should do it,” Sue replied.
She must be joking, I thought.
Nearly a year later, we are about to begin our journey.
Pilgrims have walked The Way of St. James since before medieval times, dating to the 8th Century. Their walk began at their home and ended at the shrine to St. James in Santiago de Compostela, where it is believed St. James' remains are buried.
The most well-known path begins in St. Jean, France (point A on the map), travels over the Pyrenees and across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. It passes through villages and cities with rich histories of offering pilgrims lodging, food, medical help, and much more.
Today's pilgrims carry a special passport that grants admission to the many hostels (albergues), which offer a bunk, hot shower, camaraderie, a place to cook, and often a pilgrim meal with Spanish wine.
Partly sparked by Sheen's film, the number of pilgrims has exploded recently, with more than 192,000 traveling one of the paths in 2012. About half were Spaniards and 7,071 were Americans. About 56 percent were male and 164,778 traveled on foot. More than 27,000 bicycled the Camino, an offense to some traditionalists. At least one reportedly rode a unicycle.
More than 22,000 started in St. Jean (point A), where Sue and I plan to begin. About 40,000 completed just the minimum required for a certificate of completion, 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles.
Some began walking from afar. Thirty-one started their pilgrimage in Rome, three in Jerusalem.
More than 56 percent were aged 30-60, 28 percent were younger than 30, and nearly 15 percent were older than 60.
I am 60 and Sue is 56. We should feel right at home, age wise.
I know the Camino will provide unique opportunities and challenges.
Thank you, Martin Sheen. And Sue!
- One Foot In Front Of The Other: The Camino de Santiago
We knew if we were going to make this happen, we'd first need to put some serious miles on our hiking shoes. Living where we do, we're lucky to have places to train that include breathtaking scenery. We got down to business the day after Christmas, putting our rain gear to the test, as the snow began to fall in our front yard.
Our rainwear isn't fashionable, but it keeps us dry.
We love having Yosemite National Park in our “backyard.” It provides us with miles of beautiful hiking throughout the year.
Springtime in Yosemite reveals some beautiful picnic spots… and some unforeseen challenges.
- My life’s next step: Camino de Santiago
As I begin walking the Way of St. James, I am humbled by the millions who for centuries have trekked before me.
Life's path can be too linear. Although the Camino de Santiago is a defined trail, I look forward to the detours.
The Camino experience brings me to Asian philosophy. “Tao” in Taoism means the “way,” and Taoism teaches that things should grow in nature with minimal interference. Life is not meant to be a struggle for personal gain. The path is more important than the destination, Taoism teaches. Live in the moment.
The Camino is a journey with mystery and intrigue. The physical challenge of walking 500 miles. A diverse group of trekkers sharing quarters. The history. The weather. The languages. The food. The cultures. And, of course, the wine.
One step at a time.
- What Was I Thinking? The Camino de Santiago
“What else do we have to do with our time?” I responded when Reg expressed his disbelief. Having just watched the Martin Sheen movie The Way, I was fascinated with the idea of walking The Camino de Santiago.
Why? That's a tough question…or maybe it's really quite simple. Life is short. More and more often I'm reminded that my time here is limited. In a world where it's far too easy lose sight of what's important, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to slow down and appreciate the beauty that each day brings.
I believe faith is the common denominator on the Camino. Religious faith leads many along The Way. Some are guided by their spiritual faith while others seek to define a personal faith. Will this change my life? Undoubtably, but at this point, I can't fathom what is in store for me. I'm eager to discover who will share this journey; to hear their story, share a meal and perhaps walk a few miles together.
- The Shoes Are Everything: The Camino de Santiago
When I was still working, the Bunco Girls used to marvel at my shoes. I always arrived straight from work, sporting a spiffy pair of heels and claiming to be able to walk in anything! I love heels; partially (yes, I'll admit it) because I think they make my feet look smaller.
Since everything looks great in a size 6, and I haven't worn anything that small since 5th grade, purchasing clunky hiking shoes created some personal anxiety. After trying on numerous sizes and styles, I heard Vanity whispering in my ear, “Take the size 8! They'll be fine.” However, Reality was shouting from behind, “You better buy the 9 or you”ll be sorry…”
Fortunately common sense won out, and I purchased the larger size…a smart decision! Reg and I have put over 150 practice miles on our shoes and have we have yet to experience a blister. I can only hope that our good luck will continue as we put our shoes to the test!
- Pamplona: The Camino de Santiago
As much as we wanted to start in France from St Jean Pied-de-Port, weather reports warned that spring had not yet arrived in the Pyrenees. Snow was causing detours, so we made the decision to start from Pamplona, saving several days to enjoy when further along the trek.
After a long day of travel, we arrived in time for a late dinner in a local bar where the raucus crowd was heavily involved in a futbol match. Morning found us on the Camino, headed west.
- The first day is moving: Camino de Santiago
A bright day with sunny spells greeted us on our first day on the Camino Frances, although there was some slogging through the muddy remains of a wet spring. We started in Pamplona and climbed, often on a quite rocky trail, to the spectacular vantage point for Sue and her fellow trekkers above. Many signs in various forms, including in the sidewalk in Pamplona, guided our way. We found a small hostel and have met people from Denmark, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Florida over cafe con leche and, later, cervezas and wine. It is nearly time for our first pilgrim meal with the 20 or so staying here in Uterga. Just one day in and the Camino spirit is powerful.
- Ups and Downs: Camino de Santiago
- The Colors of Spring: The Camino de Santiago
- The Caravan Man: Camino de Santiago
- Camino de Santiago: What’s in Your Backpack?
- Castle in the Sky: Camino de Santiago
We got an early start this morning, setting out under a clear blue sky. We'd walked about a mile, passing through the small village of Villatuerta. As we headed out of town, we stopped to admire the view…which seemed to go on forever. We commented on the amazing white cliffs visible in the distance.
The Camino led us forward and upward, skirting around those cliffs and eventually exposing what looked like a distant volcano, topped with a large rock outcropping. We forged ahead, secure in the belief that it was one mountain we wouldn't have to climb!
Little did we know that our destination would lead us halfway up that mountain! That rock outcropping was actually the ruins of an old castle which now stands guard over the town of Villamayor de Monjardin. We quickly checked into the first hostel we saw, eager to remove our hiking shoes and chat with our fellow Pilgrims!
- Brazilian scores lower beer price on Camino de Santiago
- We are on the map! Camino de Santiago
- The Camino Spirit: Camino de Santiago
- Camino Spirits: Camino de Santiago
- Breakfast of pilgrims: Camino de Santiago
- Where are we sleeping? Camino de Santiago
At the end of the day, all that matters is a hot shower, good food and a place to lay our heads. However, the Pilgrim life is often lacking in privacy. Sometimes we are lucky enough to snag a private room in the albergue (hostel). They cost a little more, but usually have a private bath which has become a real luxury!
Other evenings find us sharing sleeping quarters with fellow Pilgrims; men and women of all ages, spread out in dorm rooms far more crowded than any of us would like. Our first night on the trail found us sharing a room with 13 others! We're glad we brought along the Tylenol PM!
- Sites and sounds of Camino de Santiago
Many of the locals, especially the older Spaniards, have welcomed us as we pass. It goes like this:
“Buenos dias!” Or “hola,” (Us)
“Buenos dias! Buen Camino!” (The locals)
Some stop to tell us stories or to direct us to some site ahead. They speak in rapid-fire Spanish and we nod and say “Si! Gracias!” One even drew pictures to accompany his story.
If we take a wrong turn, we are soon redirected to the Camino path. One man even walked us to the correct street in his town.
The Camino spirit is strong.
Below, the ruins of a 12th-century albergue and pilgrim hospital border the Camino, which doubles as an exercise path for locals outside Logrono.
- How Far Have We Walked? Camino de Santiago
At the end of the day, tired feet are a given! Sore knees, ankles and shoulders are common complaints, and blisters have ended many a journey after only a few days. We began our day today (April 18) after walking 19 miles yesterday! Our longest day yet, and of course, the warmest day. That brought our total mileage to 101 in eight days. We staggered into the town of Santo Domingo De Calzada last night hot and tired. Reg is holding up pretty well, but my left pinkie toe had become one giant blister. Fortunately, I found a handsome young Spaniard at the albergue who was an expert in foot care. All is much better today!
- A cold, uphill slog: Camino de SantiagoOn our ninth day we awoke to light rain, temperatures just above freezing and mountains to climb. It would turn out to be quite a test.
Our 15-mile trek from Belorado to St. Juan de Ortega on Friday had two halves. Although the weather was poor, we were in beautiful countryside and found welcoming bars for coffee in the morning and lunch just before noon.
It was all downhill (actually uphill) from there. Nearly two thousand feet of elevation gain to about 4,000 feet with occasional showers, biting cold wind and a seemingly endless trail brought us to St. Juan de Ortega. The guidebook said the albergue was basic and drafty, so we opted for the 10-room hotel across the street in the village of 30 inhabitants. It felt isolated to say the least.
Over drinks and dinner in a small bar filled with character and characters, we heard stories about the albergue's cold showers and frigid conditions.
We had made the right choice.
- Blisters and Bandages in Burgos: Camino de Santiago
We've noticed our feet have been swollen at the end of each day, but by morning they have returned to normal and we've been ready to hit the trail. This morning was a different story. I realized that my blister was not healing, despite the attention several days ago from the “handsome young Spaniard.” No wonder I was so slow yesterday! The toe looks and feels horrid!
Fearing infection, Reg and I headed to our next stop (Burgos) by taxi. Our amazingly helpful driver took us to the emergency room (where we expected to spend several hours), walked us in and explained my predicament. Thirty minutes later I was bandaged, given instructions and a prescription for antibiotics and we were done!
A couple days of rest and I hope to be back on the road…perhaps a bus or two will keep me on track.
- It’s Not All Bad: Camino de Santiago
- Bars offer refuge for weary pilgrims: Camino de Santiago
- Sunday, a day of rest in Burgos: Camino de Santiago
While Sue was resting her foot, I strolled around Burgos on this chilly Sunday morning. Few people were about and virtually all stores were closed. Some bars (like cafes with food, coffees and booze) were open, so we will find a place near our hotel to eat dinner. I saw several Camino friends on my walk. We will likely stay here again Monday because we don't want to resume the Camino until Sue is much better. Our friends are moving on, but there are always new pilgrims to meet along the way. We are both disappointed, but we are determined to continue! The Camino spirit is still strong.
- The Camino Will Provide: Camino de Santiago
We met James and Gitta our first night on the Camino. Both are experienced walkers, world travelers and lots of fun. We lost track of them several days ago and knowing they were leaving the Camino well before Santiago, were afraid we would not have a chance to say our goodbyes.
As luck would have it, Reg bumped into them this afternoon while wandering through the historical city center of Burgos. Had I not had the foot problems, we may have moved on this morning and missed out on the chance for one last meal together. Thank you James and Gitta…for everything!
- Vino Tinto: Camino de Santiago
We had the best evening meal of the trip at Liberanos Domaine, the Albergue in the village of Rabe de las Calzadas. For just €18.50 each (about $24.00) we had a bed, dinner, breakfast and great company. A quick trip around the village revealed tulips and a stork nest perched atop the town steeple.
We enjoyed an extended Happy Hour with Gert, a German from outside Hamburg. Struggling with blisters of his own, he had a suggestion for me as he filled my glass with vino tinto (red wine). “Sue, I get you drunk…the foot will hurt no more!” Buen Camino!
- Sorry Charlie on the Camino de Santiago
- The plains in Spain: Camino de Santiago
- A Kiss is Just a Kiss: Camino de Santiago
This kindly Spanish gentleman greeted me as we walked through the sleepy town of Castrojeriz. He wished me “Buen Camino,” then proceeded to hold a very one sided conversation. “No comprendo,” I tried to explain. What a friendly man I thought as he leaned in and gave me a European-style kiss, linked his arm through mine and continued his conversation.
Reg snapped this photo, then wandered down the street, leaving me hooked together with this chatty Spaniard. As I pulled away, he leaned in and quicker than I could say “adios,” planted a kiss smack on my lips!
I have know idea what he was saying, but he smiled as he waved goodbye.
- Spirit trumps pain on Camino de Santiago
We have journeyed about 170 miles, a bit more than a third of the way. The physical challenge is great, but the feeling of camaraderie and adventure easily outweighs it most of the time. Pain and exhaustion are part of most days, but we feel part of something that is difficult to describe. The Camino spirit is strong.
- Leaving Castrojeriz: Camino de Santiago
- Fresh Bread? Camino de Santiago
- Blistering pace slows on Camino de Santiago
Sue's blisters call out for healing time, so today we are pausing in Carrion de Los Condos, a medieval village just east of Leon, after a visit to a doctor. We will take a bus to Leon Saturday, then we will begin to tackle the remaining 197 miles on Sunday.
Nagging injuries have hit most Camino trekkers we know and they do not spare the young. Blisters and knee injuries are the most common. We know several who have visited one of the many medical centers along the Camino.
- The magical bond of Camino de Santiago
It is difficult to describe how hearts from around the world bond on the Camino. The togetherness we feel makes this unlike any experience Sue and I have had. So far, it far outweighs the aches and inconveniences.
Some snapshots from the Camino:
- Teen adventure: A high school senior from Maine shared the trail with us for a couple of hours. He was walking for two weeks, having been invited to join a mother and her daughter. The girl, a sophomore from his school, had a knee injury so she and her mom had to rest. He was enjoying being able to drink beer in the bars on the Camino. We bumped into the group a couple more times in the next few days.
“Sorry, Charlie”: While waiting for the bus in Carrion today, I saw the Dutch woman across the street who had won our game of Sorry, Charlie! a few days earlier. I could not remember her name, so I called out, “Sorry, Charlie!” and she turned to me right away. We had a quick reunion before Sue and I boarded the bus. We saw another player from that game, a tall Frenchman 74 years old, several times on the Camino afterward. Each time we would all smile and say, “Sorry, Charlie!”
- 60 miles a day: A college physics student from Missouri on a study abroad semester in Spain got off his bike and walked with us for awhile. He bought the bike in Pamplona, made some repairs, and was planning to ride 60 miles a day. There are many bicyclists on the Camino and they yell out “Buen Camino!” as they whiz past.
- Just do it: A Swedish middle-aged man sat next to me at a sidewalk cafe in a small village. It is his second Camino. His first was two years ago. “Why are you doing another so soon?” I asked. He pointed to his head and said, ” I just had to do it.”
- Saving a marriage: “Why are you doing the Camino?” is a common question. A New Brunswick couple who joined us for dinner had an answer we hadn't heard before: They were separated and are hoping Camino will restore their marriage. They said it is going well so far. They have four children and five grandchildren.
- Sicilian back again: A guy in his 20s from Sicily was limping along on bad knee. He had done the Camino in August and wanted to come back. He had just taken four days off trying to allow his knee to recover. He had come about 160 miles. He had spent his senior high school year in Mesa, Arizona. Today, we saw him in Leon, still limping, but covering at least 15 miles a day.
- Camino reunion: Beverly and Junior are American women in their 60s doing the Camino together as a reunion…they had not seen each other since high school.
- Sisterly love: A Texas woman in her early 20s planned a solo Camino, but brought her brother because she thought it would be good for him. She bandaged his blistered feet every morning and was patiently helping him overcome his special needs.
- Aussie mates: Three Australian oil engineers, in their early 60s and friends for 40 years, are doing the Camino together. It all started when one of the men said he was going; the others asked if they could join him. They booked their flight two days after deciding to go and were here in three weeks. We had a long chat with them over a couple of cervezas. Very nice chaps!
- Leon – 183 Miles To Go: Camino de Santiago
We spent Saturday night in Leon, a beautiful city of 130,000. Although the sun was shining, a cold wind kept us bundled up. The late 13th century Gothic Cathedral dominates the Plaza Regal. Renowned for its magnificent 125 stained glass windows, the beauty was hard to capture in a photograph.
We'd heard from our son about the late-night social scene he and friends enjoyed while in Spain. As we left the city about 8:00 Sunday morning, we passed many groups of young people who appeared to be just winding up their Saturday night celebrating.
- Home is Where You Hang Your Hat: Camino de Santiago
- Happy Birthday Reg-4/29: Camino de Santiago
We spent Sunday night in the little village of Vilar de Mazarife where we enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal with our fellow Pilgrims. We had briefly met Judy and Verna earlier that day along the trail and were pleased to find them sipping a glass of vino in the local bar that afternoon…so we joined them! Friends for over 50 years, they were celebrating their 60th birthday year together on the Camino.
This morning, as we headed down the trail, Judy caught up with us and sang a special birthday song – in Spanish – for Reg…just one more example of how quickly friendships flourish along the Camino.
- Albergues offer contrasting charms: Camino de Santiago
We are heading across the high plains (3,000 feet elevation) toward the mountains, which will dominate the final 150 miles of the Camino until it drops into Santiago de Compestela. The villages here contrast with the medieval villages of the first 200 miles. Temperatures have been in the 40s, with icy wind at our backs. The forecast is for rain tomorrow and some pilgrims are fearing snow when we hit the mountains. Ah, life on the Camino!
- A Pilgrim’s Birthday Surprise: Camino de Santiago
In an effort to honor our vow to not walk much more that 12 miles a day, we stopped early in the little village of Vallares de Orbigo. We were first to check in to Albergue Vallares; the only one in town. To our surprise, we found ourselves alone around the dinner table this evening. You've heard it before, but here goes; this was the best meal of the Camino!
We enjoyed a delicious salad; a mixture of lettuce, rice, crab, tuna, walnuts and raisins, followed by a vegetable-beef-lentil stew. We also had bread, wine, water and dessert which seem to be standard fare. All was prepared by our host Pablo (who runs the Albergue with his wife Beleny).
We learned that we are eating and sleeping in a converted stable. Pablo and his wife bought the building (an old barn) three years ago when his construction company business in Madrid dwindled with the economy. He has been fixing the place up, doing much of the work himself between construction projects.
While our companions from last night have all moved ahead, Reg and I have enjoyed our first dinner alone in over two weeks. Happy Birthday!
- Camino Santiago takes a turn for the …?
The Camino took an unexpected turn on the last day of April and led us to an unusual destination far outside our comfort zone.
Along with our German friend Gert, we took a detour near the end of our 12-mile day, marked by a steady light rain.
It led to Castrillo de Polvazares, which our guidebook called “a traditional Maragato village with a cobbled Main Street lined with stone buildings providing tourist bars, restaurants and rooms.”
Visually, the town is wonderful, but we soon discovered it was too early in the season for pilgrim accommodations. Then, a Spaniard stopped his car after seeing us in need. Luckily, Gert understands enough Spanish to find out the man was offering to open the small albergue so that we would have a place to sleep.
We were in luck!? He led us down a narrow alley, went up some stairs and banged on a door. After a rapid, loud conversation with a woman inside, he emerged with a key. He led us to a building, through an entry that exuded a rustic charm, and inside to a room that was a very basic kitchen/dining area. Then up the curved staircase to an eight-bed dorm room that would be ours for the night, for €4 each. He turned on the hot water heater (hot showers!), but there was no heater in the room (it was about 40 degrees outside and inside).
After some good laughs at our predicament, we settled in. I toured the village in search of food and drink. I found four restaurants, but they looked too fancy for backpackers. But, we had to eat (er, drink)!
We bathed in the heat of hot showers and headed out. The first place looked out of our league. The next place was closing. The next had just closed. Suddenly, an upstairs door in a nearby building opened and a woman (the same one who provided the key earlier) popped out, asking if we were pilgrims looking for “comida.”
She raced down and led us to the restaurant that was closing. She shouted orders that they must feed us right away. Minutes later, we were seated in a warm room with linen tablecloths drinking vino tinto and eating a superb four-course meal because the staff stayed late just for us.
It is 7:30 p.m. and we are back in our room, huddled in our sleeping bags.
But life on the Camino warms our hearts like we never anticipated.
- Up, up and up goes Camino de Santiago
I made instant Starbucks coffee for the three of us in our freezing Castrillo albergue before we headed out at 7 a.m. Wednesday, top photo. Our 13-mile walk to Foncebadon was marked by a pause for coffee at a Brazilian cowboy outpost.
We climbed about 1,700 feet and are near 5,000 feet tonight in a village that has an alpine feel. It snowed here last night, but it melted today. I was exhausted by the time we reached the top and collapsed in a chair while Sue went inside to check out the albergue. She came back a bit later with news she had scored a private room, with heat! Later, we reunited with a young Irishman we had not seen in two weeks.
Thursday, we head for the highest point on the Camino and a stop at a very special pilgrim monument. We have brought along remembrances from home for our contribution.
Only 147 miles to Santiago!
- Warm Sun Returns: Camino de Santiago
We reached a milestone today. Cruz de Ferro, a monument that sits 4,934 feet above sea level, has become a symbol for the Pilgrim way of St. James. A place to pause and reflect, many Pilgrims carry small stone to leave on the pile as a personal token of their individual journey.
We each added our stones and continued along the trail, passing this funky little snack bar in the middle of nowhere.
The taxi signs are becoming more common along the way. Perhaps tired Pilgrims are looking for a break.
- There is a rhythm to the Camino de Santiago journey
More than three weeks and 300 miles since we left Pamplona on April 11, there is a rhythm to most of our days.
We are up by 6 or 6:30 most mornings and, if available, coffee and breakfast are first. Usually, a bar will offer tostada (big piece of toast with jam and butter) or, if we are lucky, tortilla (egg frittata, usually with potatoes).
Otherwise, we are on the trail by 7 and looking for a village bar up the trail for breakfast. There have been days when breakfast waits until 9 or even 10 because no place is open or there is no village for awhile.
We try to pack things like banana, orange, yogurt and/or peanuts as backups and snacks. A large chocolate bar has become a staple. We buy these at a tiny store in a village. These are usually closed on Sundays and during siesta, so we have to plan ahead.
If we have had breakfast, we stop at a bar mid-morning for our second coffee, usually sitting outside so we can greet passing pilgrims, who sometimes join us.
Camino lesson: Always use the bathroom before leaving the bar. There are virtually no public bathrooms (other than behind shrubs or trees or not) on the Camino.
Our lunch is a picnic along the way. Sometimes, we find a Camino rest stop with picnic tables. You can hear our sighs of relief as we remove our shoes and socks.
Since we have reduced our distance to about 12-13 miles a day, we are looking for a place to stay by 2 or 3 p.m. Our guide lists the albergues (hostels) and a little information about each one. For the past three nights, though, we have stopped at hostals, which are hotels. They cost from 25€ to 50€ a night and have been quite nice. I am trying to avoid the big dorm rooms; Sue is more willing to tough it out.
This afternoon, Saturday, we are in a wonderful, quaint place with a terrace and clothesline outside our room. It is run by a friendly, English-speaking Dutch woman in a riverside village. And, Sue has a bathtub! All for just 38€.
We have never had a problem finding a bed.
After a hot shower, we rest for awhile, then explore the village and find a bar to have a drink. Often, we join other pilgrims. This was especially fun during the first two weeks of the journey, but our good friends we met at the beginning are no longer on the Camino.
For dinner, we normally have the pilgrim's meal where we are staying, usually with fellow Camino trekkers. This is a three-course meal with a several choices for each course. Most of the time, the food has been alright, but not great. The wine, especially during the first two weeks, has been very good. Lately, the food has been much better, the wine not as good. Pilgrim meals come with wine and cost from 8€ to 10€. (A euro is about $1.30.)
Another routine is appreciation for this beautiful country. I often find myself thinking that this experience is too good to be real.
The Camino has tested our limits. Pain is a given every day.
But, the rhythm of the Camino has a beat unlike any other journey.
- El Puente Peregrino: Camino de Santiago
We stumbled upon this pension, El Puente Peregrino, in Trabadelo and knew it was the place for us! We spent a lazy Saturday afternoon on the bench out front, chatting with the owners and a couple from New Zealand who have been keeping pace with us for several days. Santiago cooked and Elly served us a delicious vegetarian meal of tomato soup and lasagna with a chocolate crepe for dessert. Reg was able to fill up on bacon, eggs and potatoes this morning…fuel for the climb we knew was ahead of us!
- Camino climbs to new heights of beauty
- Finding Our Way: Camino de Santiago
Our guide book promised that the Camino was well marked and the yellow arrows would be easy to follow. Mostly, we've found that to be true but even seasoned veterans run the risk of wandering off course if lost in thought…or conversation.
Communities seem to care for their portion of the Camino with varying degrees of enthusiasm. We've seen the shell symbols embedded in sidewalks and along fencing. We've learned that unless they are accompanied by the painted yellow arrows, we can be led off course. The arrows appear in a number of places; on the sidewalk, high up or down low on walls, below stop signs, painted rocks or trees…you name it!
Fortunately, we've yet to wander too far off course, although we have needed to ask directions a few times. While everyone has been very helpful, our limited Spanish has resulted in some pretty comical gestures from the locals.
- What is the Camino de Santiago?
As we descended steeply into the waterside village of Portomarin this afternoon, I mourned the loss of my Camino.
During the past several days, the quiet calm of the path has been interrupted often by large groups of walkers and bicyclists. Many seem to have just started their trek.
Sarria, where we began the day, marks the beginning for pilgrims who walk the minimum 100 kilometers (62 miles) to earn their compestela, or certificate of completion. Bicyclists must complete the final 200 kilometers.
But, my sense of loss due to the sudden surge of people was brief. My Camino? I know the Camino belongs to everyone. But, I still have my Camino, and today I realized what it is.
I look at the scallop shell, the symbol of the Camino, and see the important parts of life that come together in my heart.
I think of family, friends and so many incredible memories we share.
Sue and I have so much to look forward to. Watching our three sons and daughter-in-law in their young adult lives. Many, many good times with friends. More adventures together.
Also, the scallop shell will always remind me of this five-week Camino experience. The friends we have made. The amazing beauty of Spain. The Spanish people and culture.
- This and That: Camino de Santiago
There have been mornings when getting out of bed has been difficult. A restless night, a cold room, tired feet, an aching back, snoring, wind, rain and for some (fortunately, not us), even snow, cause weary Pilgrims to think twice about lacing up his or her boots!
However, the promise of each new day keeps us all going forward; toward Santiago…toward the end. The journey has been filled with so many memories. Had I stopped to take photos of everything that caught my eye, Reg and I would be 2 weeks behind schedule! As it is, we should arrive in Santiago in four or five more days. I expect to find more surprises along the way. More memories to be made…a good reason to get out of bed!
- Crowds Can’t Dampen Spirit: Camino de Santiago
As we head down the home stretch, we've said goodbye to nearly all familiar faces. We spent a couple laughter-filled afternoons with two Englishmen (center of left photo) before they sped ahead in an effort to reach Santiago in time for the Sunday morning service. We've been playing leapfrog for several days with the Dutchman sitting to their left.
More and more we see Pilgrims wearing simple daypacks and walking in large groups. Leaving Portomarin Thursday morning we encountered a crush of Pilgrims, all charging ahead toward the upcoming coffee stop. (top right photo) I told Reg that I felt as though we were running from the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. What happened to our peaceful Camino? After a small adjustment to our schedule, tranquility returned, along with the sunshine! Buen Camino.
- Peaceful strolling returns: Camino de Santiago
Our strategy to stay in a small village to avoid the crowds worked. We had superb spring weather as we walked Friday by ourselves through lush areas, even negotiating stepping stones in a swamp while loud toads sounded the alarm.
We had to use rain gear Thursday, only the third or fourth day we have needed it.
We plan to land in Santiago on Monday!
- Sharing The Road: Camino de Santiago
- Surprises are around many Camino corners
A careless mistake made me realize how accustomed I have become to walking with a backpack.
Sue and I stopped at a bar for coffee Saturday and I put my hat on a chair.
We had walked about half a mile, up a steep hill, when I realized I had no hat. I left my pack with Sue for my retrieval mission.
Have you ever had a dream that you were flying? That is how I felt coming back up the hill without my pack.
- What Are These? Camino de Santiago
It's been several days since we noticed these strange little buildings begin to dot the landscape. Some were quite old and rundown, while others appeared to be a newly remodeled backyard feature.
Having way too much morbid imagination, I thought perhaps they were some sort of family crypt. A little research taught me just how wrong I was.
Can you guess what these are?
- We Have a Winner!
Congratulations to Jamey who guessed drying shed!
These “unofficial symbols” of the Galicia region of Spain are known as horreos. We were told they were used to dry corn and sure enough, when we peeked inside we saw corn.
Traditionally, farmers stored and dried grain within the horreos. Sadly, they no longer offer practical storage for modern day farmers, but horreos remain popular with landowners who feel they are a valuable historical feature.
- Carryon couple plows toward Camino finish
On Monday, we will have spent 33 days and walked more than 400 miles on the Camino de Santiago. As we hang up (throw away?) our hiking shoes, some notes from the trek:
Ways of Spain: The Spanish people take time for each other, especially family. The pace of life is slow in villages along the Camino. Children are treasured. We have watched as villagers stop parents or grandparents pushing strollers so they could see the babies. I heard someone remark, “That baby will be a teenager by the time they get to the end of town!”
The people: The Spanish people have been most welcoming, kind and helpful.
Music: There is a strong Gaelic cultural influence in northern Spain, particularly in the Galicia region in which we have walked the past few days. Saturday night, a nearby city had a bagpipe festival. At dinner Saturday, the music playing in the restaurant reminded us of music played during a Scottish ceilidh.
More music: Bruno Mars songs are often played in bars and restaurants here.
Day packers: During the last week, we have seen more and more people having their luggage or backpacks shipped ahead to their next stop. There are services that will do that for about 7€ a day.
Crowds and heat: We are glad we came to the Camino in the spring. Green hillsides, flowers everywhere, and a lack of crowds (until we neared Santiago). It would be an entirely different Camino in the summer, when the number of pilgrims quadruples (or more) and temperatures soar.
Climbing: There have been steeper and more frequent climbs and descents than we anticipated. We often gained 500-1,000 feet in a day. The most for us was 2,400 feet. Much of the trek has been between 2,000 and 3,000 feet in elevation. This builds endurance, though, especially when carrying a 20-pound backpack every day. We push up the mountains much faster now than we did the first few days.
Cool trip: Temperatures for our trek have been cooler than we expected. We have had just a few days over 70 degrees. Most have been in the high 50s or 60s, some never reached 50. Good walking weather almost the entire trip.
Cuckoo birds: For evermore, we will think of the Camino every time we hear a cuckoo clock go off. The bird is ever present here and greets us daily, especially during the chilly mornings.
Bars: Oh, how we will miss the Spanish bars! They are a regular oasis along the Camino, offering a rest stop and bathroom break along with coffee, toast, sandwiches, pilgrim meals, drinks and much more. Many, many pilgrim friendships begin at the bars. People most often sit outside to watch the Camino go by.
- Churches, Bell Towers and Steeples: Camino de SantiagoThey've served as our guideposts for the past four weeks. Most often perched upon a hill, signaling yet another climb up to a new village. Mostly we've simply admired them in passing, sometimes peeking inside when the opportunity allowed. Often they have marked our destination for the evening.The churches of the Camino are as varied and beautiful as the people and landscapes of Spain. They remind us of the true path of the Camino; a path we've felt honored to have traveled.
- How to Say Goodbye? Camino de Santiago
This morning was different. As we tied our shoes and struggled into our backpacks, we knew this would be our last day of walking. Reaching Santiago was always the goal…until we started the Camino. I think we realized, after our first night in the Albergue outside of Pamplona, that this journey would be about so much more than simply reaching Santiago.
We've each had our struggles; everything from blisters to coed bathrooms (it's true!). The Camino tests everyone, and spares no one. But at the end of each day there is a bed (usually warm!), a meal, friendly conversation and laughter…and an eagerness to get up and do all again the next morning.
We walked into Santiago this afternoon with a mixture of joy and sadness. We had done it! But now what? That is the question we Pilgrims are asking each other as we prepare to go our separate ways.
- A moving Pilgrim Mass: Camino de Santiago
We joined about 1,000 at the traditional Pilgrim Mass at the Santiago Cathedral Tuesday. It was a moving ceremony, highlighted by the swinging of the giant incense burner (Botafumeiro) by six robed attendants. They pulled on ropes strung over a pulley high above the altar.
We sat close to the altar, under the path of the burner, which was originally used to fumigate smelly pilgrims.
A nun's pure, angelic voice and a massive pipe organ filled the cathedral with music. Catholic pilgrims received communion. Pilgrims from all over the world were welcomed.
It was a heart-felt punctuation mark for our Camino de Santiago.
- Sweet Distraction: Camino de Santiago
What could be better than chocolate to soothe the leftover aches and pains of the Camino? Prior to leaving, my friend Annie recommended we try the hot chocolate while in Spain. ” It's like drinking a melted Hershey bar,” she wrote.
When a light rain began to fall this morning, we ducked inside a Santiago bar for a double order of Chocolate con Churros.
With a renewed source of energy, Reg and I sped off for a tour of the cathedral and adjoining museum.
We continue to bump into Pilgrim friends from weeks ago. This morning we greeted the brother/sister duo from Texas and then an Australian woman we shared dinner and lodging with way back in Carrion.
We're on the lookout for the arrival of two more Pilgrims here in Santiago, and then I think we will have reconnected with most everyone we've spent time with along the way.
- Startling Rooftop Surprise: Camino de Santiago
We returned to the cathedral at 6pm for the final rooftop segment of our cathedral tour. After climbing 105 steps, we expected to be led out onto a courtyard type area atop the cathedral; a place where we could safely take in the view of the various towers and the surrounding Santiago cityscape.
The views were truly amazing, but imagine our surprise when we found ourselves walking across what seemed to be five inch thick granite shingles! We all quickly took a seat as our guide explained the history and different architectural styles that comprise this beautiful cathedral.
- I left my shoes in Santiago
I left my well-worn hiking shoes in Santiago.
In medieval times, Camino de Santiago pilgrims burned their clothing at a cross outside the cathedral. They bought new clothes at the nearby marketplace, signaling a new beginning.
I dumped my Merrells in a trash bin.
There was part of me that wanted to keep them, but I realized I was already taking enough back to California.
Camino friendships, amazing scenery, the Spanish people and so much more will be with me forever.
I walked nearly a million steps in my trekking shoes.
But the things I brought home are immeasurable.
- Big Screen Illuminates The Way
Reg had been tracking the whereabouts of Lydia Smith's documentary Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago for months, hoping to locate a showing close to home. It has been nearly a year since we set out on our own life-changing adventure along the Camino Frances, so we were anxious to revisit our memories.
The film documents the journey of six very different individuals who have unique reasons for making the 500 mile trek along the Camino Frances.
Would we recognize ourselves in any of these pilgrims? Would they experience the same joys, the same doubts? Would they overcome obstacles, both real and imagined, and conquer their fears? We were eager to find out!
Mid February found us seated at the Pageant Theater in Chico, California, awaiting show time. As the lights lowered, we found ourselves transported back to the Spain we remembered, spellbound as the individual stories unfolded. The scenery was breathtaking.
Based on our experience, the documentary presented an accurate picture of life along the Camino. Through a series of honest and often emotionally raw interviews, we watched the pilgrims push forward through their good and bad times, all determined to complete their journey to Santiago.
Because no two journeys are alike, the film won't be a spoiler for anyone planning their own Camino. It will, however, serve as an inspiration to those who seek personal fulfillment along this centuries old path. Buen Camino!