Sept. 25 – 28: Burgos

77CA2426-771A-494E-A7FC-1ED5BEA8FA14

Cathedral de Santa Maria XIII

Sept. 25

We bus here in two hours and settle into Hotel Monjes Magnos. It’s clean, simple, all white and we have a private room. I send Mr. Wiz* out to explore and see where we’ll dine tonight and I take a rest.

Speaking of food, this seems to be the major past time of Spaniards. Breakfast is light; a cafe con leche (espresso with hot milk) and bread or a sweet roll. During late morning, there may be time for another cafe and a sweet roll. Many towns and businesses still close in the afternoon for a siesta and a big meal is enjoyed. Then, everyone is back on the streets again and you may need either another cafe and a sweet or a wine and tapas to hold you until dinner, which begins after eight in the evening.

Burgos is a big city, sometimes referred to as the “Gothic Capital of Spain”. Thank goodness I’ve been here before and have already seen all the sights, especially the Catedral de Santa Maria XIII, one of the most beautiful and largest of Spain’s many cathedrals. Mr. Wiz revisits all his favorite architectural spots, sends me photos all afternoon and I feel as if I am there with him.

Sept. 26

It’s really something when you notice the abuelas (grandmothers) are all out-walking you, but I find my way to a bench and enjoy the beautiful weather, while Mr. Wiz is out and about.

I’m in ear shot of three pilgrims; the woman is from England and the men are from Sweden and Korea, but they are speaking English. They seem to be delighting in each other’s company, as they share some wine, tapas and their life stories. As they walk away, I can still hear them talking and laughing. They stop to take a photo together and then, spontaneously, continue their walk with their arms around each other. I fumble for my phone, but the photo op has passed. No matter; I don’t think I will ever forget that image. It personifies what the Camino is all about.

Sept. 27

The first thing I see this morning when I wake up is Mr. Wiz’s backpack on the chair, packed up and all ready to go. Our plan was to walk to Estella, but my knee is still acting up, so it looks as if we’ll be here another night. He can sense that I am upset and reminds me that what matters is that we are together and we are on our own Camino.

It’s been five days and I’ve taken all the medication from the clinic. We stop at a pharmacy and I’m told that, not only can I continue taking the meds, I can also increase the dosage and take it in the afternoon. This is quite encouraging.

We’ve been staying close to the hotel each evening, but tonight I’m feeling a bit better, so we decide to venture slowly into old town. We are so surprised to come across our pilgrim friends from Switzerland, Russia and Taiwan. They were our laundry buddies and we joke that dirty laundry will always remind us of each other.

We stop for some wine, then continue on to dinner, this time making sure to swap contact information before we say goodbye again. It’s our last evening with our Russian friend. We hug as if we’d known each other for years, as she whispers in my ear “…If we lived closer, I think we would be good friends…”

Sept. 28

We can’t stop apologizing to each other today. Mr. Wiz is sorry that he did not think to buy the bus tickets to Leòn ahead of time and I’m sorry that I forgot to remind him. The 10:30 a.m. bus is sold out (completo) so we have no choice but to wait until 5:20 p.m. to leave.

With Mr. Wiz carrying both backpacks and me hobbling beside him, there’s not much for us to do. Fortunately, it’s another beautiful day, so we find a bench in the park near the cathedral and headquarter there. I have time to reflect and remember an article I once read that said when you experience conflict, you need to face it, head straight toward it and flow with it, rather than against it. I decide to try that tactic. The time seems to go by quickly, as we plan out our day: share an apple at 1 p.m. and have a beer at 4 p.m.

At the bus station, we meet a pilgrim from Arizona, who also missed out on a ticket for the earlier bus. He had been experiencing ankle issues and said that when he had taken a few days off, he felt lonely and a bit depressed. I feel grateful that I have a partner to share my ups and downs with.

 

* Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sept. 22 – 24: Logroño

2FFEFDAB-A579-4261-97F5-801BF7650B2DS

Sept. 22: Logroño – 17 miles, seven hours

We try to outsmart the sun and leave early and by 7:15 a.m. we are on our way. We’re on a wide path which starts out sloping gently. The sound of my boots crunching on the pebbles underfoot and my hiking poles hitting the ground, as I take each step, lulls me into a meditative state. I hear a pilgrim singing in Spanish as he passes and I am surprised that an hour has already gone by.

The path continues into the Rioja wine region, becomes steeper and continues on and on. I think of the sandwich that we made to eat and look forward to enjoying it with a Coke. Funny to think that at home, I am neither a sandwich eater nor a soda drinker.

Logroño is celebrating their wine festival this weekend. It was hard to find a place to stay and we are “forced” to stay in a lovely hotel. The Marqués de Vallejo has an edgy vibe and a great location.

The city is in party mode. People of all ages are gathered at every taverna; in, out and overflowing onto the streets.  Children play with their toys against the buildings. Parents rock baby carriages with 1 foot, as they handle a glass of wine in one hand, tapas in the other and don’t miss a beat of the conversation. Young and old fill the small streets that look like alleyways. There is such a feeling of joy and happiness in the air. Bands appear from nowhere and impromptu play, as we all clap and dance, following them down the street like the pied piper.

Sept. 23: Logroño- Rest Day

I can hardly walk. My right knee is in pain. Truth is, yesterday I felt a twinge, then an ache as I walked. There was nothing to do, but keep going or be air lifted out. I felt sad, angry and frustrated as I forced myself to continue on. I am the one that worked out hard, six days a week in preparation, including adding 50 deep knee bends to my regimen. I always warm up each morning and am so cautious of the terrain. why me?

The hotel recommends a clinic and we taxi there after breakfast. It’s quiet, with only a few well-dressed people there, none that look ill. The doctor’s diagnosis translates as having knee pain due to over effort. I am told to rest, take an anti-inflammatory drug for five days and should be fine by then. Surprisingly, they are willing to bill my insurance company directly. In less than an hour we are back at our hotel, scratching our heads and wondering what to do now.

I force Mr. Wiz* to go explore and leave me to write, read and sleep. He surprises me with a compression sleeve for my knee and by seeking out our favorite restaurant when we visited here in 2016. I hobble to Pasion Por Ti, hanging on to him, and we enjoy a wonderful three course meal with a bottle of wine, water and bread for 18 euro each ($21.50), forgetting for a while that many decisions still need to be made.

Sept. 24: Logroño- Still here!

We decide to stay one more night to give us time to plan. How lucky that we are in a hotel, rather than an albergue, which does not allow multiple night stays, And, we are also glad to find out that since the wine festival is over, the nightly rate has gone down by 40 percent.

I’m feeling a bit better, but not great. We breakfast close by, then sit in a beautiful park and watch the world go by. We head back to the hotel and go into hyper-mode, trying to figure out our next move.

We both have a strong feeling that we should stay on the Camino route. I suggest that Mr. Wiz walk each day and I meet him by bus. He is adamant that he will not leave my side, so we agree that we’ll head to Burgos tomorrow for a couple of days and take it from there, This is not the Camino we had planned, but we have no choice now but to watch it unfold.

 

* Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

Sept. 18 – 21: Pamplona to Los Arcos

25B11C32-D00B-4B7B-AF0A-F22CC144AF35

Entering Puente de la Reina

Sept. 18: Pamplona- 13 miles, six hours

It’s so hot! The path is narrow and we walk single file through all sorts of rocky terrain. Bamboo trees that seem 10 feet tall line the route for a while, then a forest. I feel as if I am melting and getting grumpy, but soon I find myself listening to the interesting stories that some pilgrims share with me; how a cowgirl from Nebraska met and married a Latin man from Texas while vacationing in Mexico, the woman from the California who spoke fluent French and lived in France for two years, working as a nanny and interpreter for a wealthy Lebanese family and  the woman who just retired from the army, after living all over the world.

We enter the old city over the historic drawbridge and head to our albergue, Plaza Catedral. Our cubicle has two bunk beds and a view of the garden. We meet our bunk mates from Denmark and Rumania and settle in. After we check out the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real, some pilgrims wave us over to join them at an outdoor cafe across the street. We continue on to dinner with the merry group from Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Denmark and make room for our Danish bunk mate that was dining alone.

Sept. 19: Puenta de la Reina- 14 miles, 7-1/2 hours

Another hot day! We start out through the city, but soon the path turns to loose rock and boulders. It takes all my concentration to navigate my steps and I feel as if I’m also cleaning out all the cobwebs in my brain. We climb to the top of Alta de Perdón in the midst of all the wind turbines.

We all take turns taking photos of each other at the famous iron sculpture of medieval pilgrims and stand on line to get a handmade wax passport stamp. A young, enterprising couple provide the stamp for free in exchange for our email, in order to send us information about their upcoming Camino documentary.

Sept. 20: Estella- 14 miles, six hours

The bad news: Spain shouldn’t be this hot in September, but the good news is that there is less loose rock. We walk through gently rolling farmlands and pass three hilltop villages. The fields carry with them an artistic quality; the perfect rows of plantings high up in the hills, the squared off sections of beiges and browns that look like suede in the sunlight and even the tractor’s treads leave behind their own ornamental quality.

We are very excited to have a private room at Hosteria de Curtidores. We are warmly greeted with a sample of local beer and our backpacks are carried up to our room. We learn that this area by the river was once the tannery center. The original stone walls of the city can still be viewed behind glass in the basement. First things first; we grab a washing machine and alert our friends to hurry and bring their laundry down and laugh that washing our underwear together is bringing us closer.

Rather than join a big group tonight, we opt for an inside taverna where it’s cool and quiet. We are dining alone when a young woman pilgrim asks for help with the menu. She is delighted when we ask her to join us. Since her husband is now stationed in Afghanistan, it seemed like a good time for her to walk the Camino. She did not want to walk by herself, so asked a friend to join her, never expecting that the friend would get hurt on Day One, stay behind and she would be on this journey alone. By the end of dinner, she realizes that she is only alone if she wants to be.

Sept. 21: Los Arcos- 14 miles, six hours

There is a big group already gathered at Fuente del Vino, drinking the free wine offered to pilgrims at the famous wine fountain spigot. It’s only 8:30 a.m., so we decide on a water toast instead, a photo and we’re on our way. Though the climbs are gentler today, there is no shade and the Powerade is refreshing in the relentless heat.

It’s hard to find a place to stay because of the car races this weekend. Even though it’s not our first (or second) choice, we are grateful to find a private room on the outskirts of town. Hostel Ezequiel does not have much personality and the Wi-Fi is not working, but the room is clean. Apologetic about the Wi-Fi, the receptionist says she will do our laundry and we hang it on the line outside to dry, laughing that we might just be one of the few pilgrims that have monogrammed clothespins, having put our initials on each one with marker.

Los Arcos is a bit of a lackluster town (the population is 1200 and decreasing), but the astonishing beauty of its church, the Inglesia de Santa Maria, makes up for it. The sumptuous interior from the 16th century, the bell tower and the cloisters were enough to actually make me gasp.

We find our friends from the U.S., Switzerland, Russia and Taiwan sitting outside the cathedral. The wonderful conversation continues through wine and then dinner, as we swap stories about our lives and our families. I fall asleep tonight wondering how I could feel so close to people that I’ve just only met.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sept. 14 – 17: St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Zubieri, Spain

2214A6BD-5E3B-40D2-9DCA-ACA4F1B8F86F

Main street – St. Jean Pied de Port, France

Sept. 14: St. Jean Pied de Port, France

This ancient capital of the Basque region nestled in the Pyrenees is a welcoming place to start, The storybook village is crowded with pilgrims from all over the world, excited to begin their adventure.

We stay at Beilari, one of the many albergues in town, except that this one comes with a recommendation. Albergues are hostels run exclusively for pilgrims, who show their pilgrim passport and receive a stamp (a lovely souvenir by the end of the trip).

All 22 guests are greeted warmly, settle in and later we all congregate around the long, wooden dining tables. Our host serves us a glass of port and asks us to introduce ourselves, say where we’re from and why we are doing the Camino. The group is from the U.S., France, Malta, Brazil and Australia and we immediately feel a deep connection to each other.

We set the table together as our host tells us that for this night only, we are a family and will share a home cooked meal together. Impressively, he repeats this all in English, French and Spanish and tells us that he plans to learn German during the offseason.

We are told not to set alarms and the next morning awaken to the sounds of a Gregorian chant. After sharing breakfast, we head out together on our first day.

Sept. 15: Orisson, France- 7 miles, three hours

It’s a strenous, uphill walk, so we plan to stop in the albergue in Orisson before continuing through the Pyrenees tomorrow.

We sit outside all afternoon, delighting in the travel stories from our newfound friends from the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, even though traveling through India on a motorcycle and hiking in Nepal are not on our bucket list.

Before dinner we are asked to, once again, introduce ourselves, which seems to give you as much insight into others as it does into yourself. I fall asleep wishing I could have given all 38 new members of my new one-night family a group hug.

Sept. 16:  Roncesvalles, Spain- 9 miles, five hours

This is so much better than our 2016 experience; it’s not raining, the trail is better and the rooms at the monastery have been renovated.

It’s a long, uphill climb, but the scenery is breathtaking and the only sound you can hear is the occasional cow bell. I have a sudden urge to run through the hills, twirling around and singing the words to “The Sound of Music,” but suddenly remember the Camino golden rule: never take an extra step that is not necessary.

There are two bunk beds to a cubicle and we are sharing it with a French couple that speak no English. My French friend and I soon find something we have in common; we both keep hitting our heads on the top bunk, laugh and high-five each other.

We enjoy another home cooked dinner, then a big group of us gather to toast a U.S. couple celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary.

Sept. 17: Zubieri- 14 miles, six hours

Of course, things could always be worse. Last time it rained, but now it’s hot and the shale, tree roots and loose rock make the path unrelentingly difficult as we trudge uphill and then descent, over and over again.

At our albergue Palo de Avellano, we meet an older couple who left from their front door in Germany and are now heading home.

Two Tylenol and one power nap later, I am ready for a glass of wine. At the bar, we are invited to join a woman from Holland sitting alone and then run into a couple from Texas.

At dinner, we’re seated next to five men from Denmark who met when they were 6 years old and travel together once a year. We laugh and talk, almost forgetting that it’s lights out at 10 p.m.

 

Following the Yellow Brick Road; Why I Am Walking the Camino Again

Photo Following the Yellow Brick Road

The 2011 movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen, sparked a resurgence in the Camino. His son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote, produced and directed it, has compared his story to “The Wizard of Oz.” Sheen is Dorothy, Oz is replaced by Santiago and the pilgrims that Sheen meets along the way seem to have something in common with the tin man, scarecrow and the cowardly lion. The yellow arrows that mark the way along the Camino are today’s yellow brick road.

Walking out of the theater that afternoon, I remember Mr. Wiz* vowing to walk the Camino someday. I thought nothing of it again, until 2016, when I accepted an invitation to join him on a 500 mile walk through Spain.

Then an unathletic version of myself, I was not about to miss out on an adventure. I started training and had found my sport; I could walk! Standing on that mountain as I tested out my first pair of hiking boots, I felt positively giddy. No matter that it was the 4-foot, plastic mountain in the center of the REI shoe department; I was hooked.

Following one of the ancient paths that pilgrims have traveled for thousands of years to the cathedral in Santiago, Spain where the remains of St. James are said to be buried, the Way of St. James evokes physical, spiritual and mystical qualities. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk) can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine). A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there is such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

Standing on line to receive our Compostela (the certificate of completion) at the end of the trip, a fellow pilgrim mentioned a national pilgrim organization. Members of our local chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino all seem to have that same sparkle in their eyes; they are interesting people of all ages that are united by a sense of adventure and purpose. And when family and friends have heard all your stories and seen your photos more than once, this is the group who is always anxiously willing to share it all again.

This band of spirited souls with a zest for life understood my newfound feelings. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

So, accepting Mr. Wiz’s invitation once again, with my hair cut short, nail polish removed and no makeup packed, I will venture out with a couple of outfits in my backpack and see where life takes me this time. These are not requirements; you make your Camino your own. This is just my way of not letting a more complicated version of myself get in the way of the simple pleasures that the Camino is known to provide.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

They Don’t Supersize in Spain (And Other Extra-Large Observations)

Photo Spain

I am a Hispanophile. I have a strong affinity for Spain and all things Spanish. It is not only part of my heritage, but it’s also become my fascination.

When I visit, it always takes me a few days to fall back into the rhythm of the culture. There is a lovely, peaceful feeling there of having all the time in the world. Life has an elegance to it.

Food is considered something to be savored, rather than supersized. Meals are served in small courses, always with dessert. “Tapas” (Spanish for “hors d’ oeuvres”) are typically not large servings either. This offers a way to taste, but not to overdue (unlike the U.S., obesity is not a national problem there).

Nothing is ever eaten on the run. I’ve been mesmerized watching just how slowly a Spaniard can actually sip an espresso style coffee, making it last while reading an entire newspaper. You never see anyone running down the street with a to-go container in hand (are they even an option)?

Each meal is a gastronomic experience and if it seems as if Spaniards are eating and drinking all day and all night, that’s because they are. Here is a typical daily meal schedule:

Breakfast: Coffee and bread or pastry
Midmorning: Coffee and a quick bite.
2-3:30 p.m.:  Lunch is the main meal of the day. Most head home to eat during the
workweek; a nap (siesta) is optional.
Early Evening: A drink and/or tapas.
9:30-10 p.m.: Dinner is served (begins even later on weekends).
After Dinner: Nightcap anyone?

One evening, while enjoying cocktails at an outside cafe, I noticed a large family congregating. As each new member joined the group and received a kiss on each cheek, the circle was made larger to accommodate the newest arrival and the conversation didn’t miss a beat. The children played quietly next to the circle. You could sense the level of respect shown to the older family members, as everyone leaned over to hear what those wise sages were speaking about. When we passed by after dinner at midnight, the group was still there, now inside at a table, and did not look like they were heading home any time soon. This all took place on a weeknight, which made me wonder: doesn’t anyone around here have to go to work tomorrow?

I was told by a Spanish friend that what I had viewed was called a “sobremesa” (Spanish for “chatting over the remains of the meal”) and can sometimes last for hours. Spaniards tend to work to live (rather than live to work) and are very respectful of both their work time and their leisure time. Vacations are taken and time off is enjoyed.

In times past, townspeople would ride their horse and carriages up and down the main thoroughfare to see and be seen. The tradition continues today with the “paseo” (Spanish for “a leisurely stroll on a public walkway or boulevard”). It’s a lovely ritual, as people of all ages promenade and meet up with friends and family, stop for a drink, tapas or a sweet and chat. The plaza in each town’s center also brings people together and the impromptu live music creates a celebratory feeling.

There is an unspoken dress code that does not include sweatsuits or sneakers. You can’t help but notice that every man, woman and child is smartly dressed, donning a stylishly tied scarf (very European chic). Even the style of the baby carriages are impressive, as they chauffeur their well-dressed passengers around, all decked out in their little leather shoes that match their outfits and hats.

It was while walking the Camino that I had the chance to glimpse into the daily rhythm of Spain’s smaller towns (the tiniest with a population of 18). The contentment shared by the townspeople made me question if maybe less is more. I began to learn to appreciate the abundance of simplicity, a concept that I hope to never forget.

Each time I say goodbye to Spain, I promise myself that I will try to incorporate another part of their lifestyle into my own and create my own version of the best of my both worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lure of the Camino

Photo Lure Camino

Dale! (Spanish for “let’s do it!”). It was one year ago that Mr. Wiz* and I said those words to each other and left Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to hike over the Pyrenees and the 500-mile route to Santiago, Spain.

Since the 11th century, pilgrims have followed the Way of St. James to the Cathedral of Santiago, where his remains are said to be buried. For a time, its popularity waned until the movie The Way was released in 2011. Starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the father/son team reintroduced the Camino and are greatly responsible for its revival and the over 250,000 people from all over the world that traveled its routes in 2016 by hiking, biking or horseback.

The French route that we traveled is the most popular, but there are many others throughout Europe that all end in Santiago. Tradition dictates that it is “your Camino”; you travel each day as long as you would like, stopping at an albergue (a pilgrim hostel), five-star hotel or anything in between. You need not make the journey all at once, but in order to obtain a Compostela (certificate of completion), you need to have walked at least 100km (200km by bike) to Santiago and have had your Credencial (pilgrim passport) stamped along the way.

Your travels take you through small and large towns, fields, orchards, mountains and the flat plains of the meseta. There is a physical, mental and spiritual component to the journey that seems to be dictated by your location and the terrain. Many have also experienced a mystical aspect, seeing firsthand how “the Camino provides.”

Now, imagine all of this while sharing it with people from all over the world. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk), can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine).

As each day ended, I found myself overcome with emotion, reliving all the details that made that day like no other. A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there was such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

One year later, I still feel its effects on me almost daily. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

Who would think that just putting one foot in front of the other would set me off in a new direction and lead me to a new way of life.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page

The Camino: Oct. 17 – 21, 2016

                                                 photo-parador

Oct. 17- Palas de Rey: 16 miles, six hours

The path is nothing but mud and it’s drizzling. I’m sweating in my rain jacket and trudging along. A fellow pilgrim, a lovely older woman traveling alone catches up to me and with a sparkle in her eyes, says “What a beautiful morning! I love the mist. It changes the entire perspective of the landscape.” As I’m listening to her, I unzip my jacket, pull down my hood and the light drizzle instantly cools me off. By the time she goes on her way, I’m feeling great and the rain has already stopped.

We’re up and down again, walking right through farms and past lovely old stone farm houses, catching a glimpse of daily life: an old woman humming to herself as she hangs laundry; a farmer out in the pasture tending his sheep; a woman picking raspberries who stops to offer us some; the cows lazily grazing in the fields; the dogs sleeping in the sun. I find I have acquired a new skill and though it may not be resumé material, it’s interesting to note: I am now able to differentiate an animal’s manure by its smell.

I laugh to myself as I coin a new phrase: “In Spain, what goes up, must come UP”! Walking in the forest always seems a bit mystical, especially the way the light plays on and around the trees, lined up in exact rows. The scent of the eucalyptus trees is even stronger when we crush some leaves in our hands.

The outside tables are still wet in the little taverna when we stop for a cold drink. A fellow pilgrim is wiping off his table with a rag from the owner and when he sees us, he wipes off ours too. I pass on the kindness by wiping the table for some other pilgrims that sit at the next table. It’s a small gesture, but speaks to the feeling of community.

The Pensión Palas is simple, modern and clean, but the town seems old and rundown. The big excitement of the evening is that I am served rice with my dinner, rather than the ever-present french fries.

Oct. 18- Castañeda: 13 and one-half miles, six and one-half hours

The temperature is in the high 60s and cloudy; perfect walking weather. We’re up and down, through forests, farmlands and towns. It seems it will be a fairly uneventful day until we come to a river. The bridge is made up of boulders covered in mud. I take a minute to access the route and see I have no choice. I feel more confident with my poles, until I realize that the last two boulders narrow and the poles won’t fit. I panic for a second, but tell myself I have to keep moving forward; other pilgrims are behind me and there’s nowhere else to go. It takes all I’ve got in me to slowly make my way to the end. I’m amazed at my newfound grit and it gives me a spring in my step.

Casa Garea, our Casa Rural for the evening, is located at the beginning of town on the main road. The shoulder is narrow on the road and the cars are zooming by at breakneck speeds. Our only option is to walk through a big field. Our boots are sinking into the fresh dirt, making the walking more difficult. On arrival, the owner greets us and asks if we enjoyed the walk through the forest. We realize that we were too quick to get off the pilgrim path; a few kilometers ahead there was a sign that would have led us right to our destination. Lesson learned: always refer to our map.me app. (which requires no internet connection), especially when tired.

The room is cozy with wooden beams on the ceiling and white, starched linen curtains on the windows. After we freshen up, the owner brings in some wood for the fireplace and we sit in the downstairs sitting room with a glass of wine and relax. It’s not that cold out, but the warmth of the fire feels good. We make sure not to fall asleep and miss dinner.

Oct. 19- Pedrouzo: 16 miles, 6 and one-half hours

I spend my morning saying a prayer for each of the pilgrims that we pass that are not well but keep plodding along: five limping; three with food poisoning; and one with an intestinal virus. I am humbled by their strength and determination and feel a bit guilty that I have made it to this point unscathed; me, with the weak stomach, who always thought of myself as clumsy. I want to hug them and tell them how much I admire them, but each of them seems to be in a type of meditative state, some even wincing with every step. “Buen Camino,” the usual greeting, does not seem appropriate. All I can think of is to give them a thumbs-up as I pass them by.

Pensión LO is brand-new, all white and very modern, but the room has one design flaw: there are no shelves or closets! We balance what we’ll need for the evening on our backpacks and hope for the best. There’s lots of traffic in this town, but it looks a bit old and bleak, so we head back to the Camino path to find a restaurant for dinner. After some hugs and catching up, a friend we run into suggests the place she’d just dined at. It’s very contemporary, with a wooden communal table in the middle and shelves lined with gourmet foods; it looks so out of place. The food is good and the service is slow, but the wine is served right away and we are entertained by a mother and her 15-year old precocious son from Finland traveling the Camino together.

Oct. 20- Santiago: 13 miles, five hours

It feels like Christmas morning! We’re up early and excited to get going, but the sun has yet to rise. It’s still dark when we head out, but we only need the flashlight for a few minutes. The path takes us through some suburban towns, past the airport and alongside some roads, with just enough inclines and descents to make us realize that just because it’s our last day of walking does not mean it will be an easy one.

All that’s separating us from entering Santiago is a bridge. As we draw closer, we notice that it’s an old, depilated, wooden bridge with missing, uneven slats. The guard rails are unusually low, so as the traffic speeds by both beside us and below us, it gives us the sensation of Vertigo. We try to focus on walking exactly down the middle, keep our heads down and watch every step we take as quickly as we can.

We’re standing in front of the Santiago city sign, but after what it took to get here, it seems like a bit of a lackluster greeting. Besides the sign to welcome us, there is a gas station and a row of restaurants. It takes another hour to get to the old section of the city. Just when we feel our energy waning, some local residents assure us we are almost there and give us a thumbs-up.

As we approach, we hear the faint sound of bagpipes. There’s a musician dressed in a cloak and a feathered hat playing in the tunnel. As we exit the tunnel, the Cathedral comes into full view, sparkling in the sunlight. Now that’s the dramatic welcome we were hoping for!

We hug longer than usual and both get teary eyed. Amongst the tourists who quite don’t know what to make of this, the Plaza de Obradoiro (known as the “golden square”) is full of pilgrims hugging, chatting, taking group photos, sitting cross legged in groups or just laying down on the ground in the sun around the Cathedral.

It’s time for lunch and we agree that some wine might be necessary to celebrate and to help us to sort out our emotions. We’re so grateful for a safe journey and not sure how we feel. Are we elated to have arrived or melancholy that it’s over?

We’re splurging and staying at the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, the famous five star parador (see photo at top of page). Paradores are a hotel network of government owned, restored historical buildings throughout Spain. This massive structure was originally a hospital built in 1499 by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand (hence, the hotel’s name) and is said to be the oldest hotel in Europe. We explore every corner of the four courtyards, the church and the sitting areas. We read every historical sign that tells the story of each area and makes it come to life.  Our room is a lovely retreat with a feeling of Old World Spain that looks out onto one of the courtyards.

Santiago is a vibrant city with a bit of a carnival atmosphere, due in part to the large number of pilgrims descending on it each day. Streets filled with shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes twist and turn into narrow passageways that open to small plazas.

We had befriended a pilgrim couple early on in the walk and talked of sharing a celebratory dinner in Santiago in the hotel dining room. With the reservation now made, we now realize that our pilgrim clothes might not be suitable and some shopping might be in order. We laugh and wonder if we will recognize each other, all cleaned up. As we head back to the hotel, we join a group of fellow pilgrims for a celebratory drink. It’s a lovely evening enhanced by the gourmet dinner and the wonderful company. We end the evening with a toast to the continuance of our newfound friendship.

Oct. 21: Santiago

All Camino routes end at Santiago’s Cathedral where Saint James, the patron Saint of Spain, is buried. We head to the Cathedral early in order to get a seat for the noon Pilgrims’ Mass, a pilgrim tradition. We are disappointed that we are no longer able to place our hand on the column in the inner portico as a mark of gratitude for a safe arrival. After millions of pilgrims wore finger holes in the solid marble over time, the area is now covered by a protective barrier. The highlight of the Mass is the swinging of the Botafumeiro, a giant incense burner (featured in the movie “The Way”). It was originally used to fumigate the dirty and disease-ridden pilgrims. The eight attendants start pulling up and down until it swings as high as the ceiling. We lift our heads to follow it and realize it is right over our heads; a strange feeling.

Next, we head to the Pilgrims Office to obtain our Compostelo Certificate of Completion. All along the route, we have obtained stamps from hotels, restaurants, churches, etc. on our Pilgrim Passports, denoting what towns we visited. From Sarria on, we were required to obtain two stamps a day. The 45 minutes fly by as we compare notes with fellow pilgrims. We run into some pilgrims and agree that a last glass of wine together is in order. It’s hard to say goodbye…

Since I’ve arrived in Santiago I have not slept well. All the sights and sounds of the last 35 days are swirling around in my head and I am trying to sort them out. It is said that the Camino is divided into three parts. The first is physical, as your body gets used to the grueling daily regimen. The second is mental, as you walk the flat, somewhat boring paths of the meseta. The last is spiritual, as you near Santiago and the end of your long journey.

The Camino books and YouTube videos tell stories of pilgrims experiencing some sort of spiritual epiphany and I am hoping that I am one of them, but as I analyze each day and experience nothing comes to mind. I open our Camino book and start to flip through it, not sure why. We have owned this book for over a year and have referred to it many times throughout each day, but for some reason I have never turned to the last page until now. The words of a poem by Marianne Williamson (made famous by Nelson Mandela in his freedom speech) make the hair on my arms stand up on end and bring tears to my eyes. My spiritual gift was waiting for me in those last pages:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking.
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our Light shine,
We consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

photo-lm

 

 

 

 

 

The Camino: Sept. 23 – 26, 2016

img_0013

Sept. 23- Nájera: 18 miles, seven hours

The Harvest Festival revelers kept us up with their shouting and singing, but we still are up and ready to go.

Today’s path starts out flat through towns and then vineyards. We welcome the cooler temperature in the 60s, no sun and no steep inclines or descents.

Throughout the day the path changes from dirt to rocks to concrete. Trails flow through forests, fields, vineyards, towns and along busy and quiet roadways. The terrain dictates how long the days walk will be.

Nájera was the capital of the Navarre kingdom in the 11th century and its old stone buildings still stand proudly. We arrive at the Hostal Ciudad de Nájera and are greeted so warmly by the father and son owners as if we were family. They carry our backpacks up the stairs to our rooms and present us with a cold bottle of red wine, which we gratefully accept. All this and a bathtub too!

Sept. 24- Santo Domingo de la Calzada: 14 miles, five hours

It’s such a peaceful start to the day when you walk just before sunrise.

The flat path soon gives way to long inclines, then long descents, with lots of loose gravel, but the welcoming smiles and wishes of “Buen Camino!” from the townspeople in each little town we pass through gives us the energy we need to continue.

We thought we had another hour to go and are so surprised and happy to see the town sign that we celebrate with a Coke with lemon. The Hospederia Cisterciense is run by the nuns of the same name and we are impressed by its Old World charm and the simple, clean, crisp feeling of the rooms.

Sept. 25- Belorado: 14 miles, five hours

The nuns are fussing over us at breakfast, making sure we have enough to eat and wishing us “Buen Camino!.”

Most of today’s walk travels right next to the busy N-120 Highway. Cars and trucks are roaring by and the sound is anything but relaxing.

I am feeling less intimidated of the terrain and allow myself to let my mind wander just a bit, without ever losing respect for the Camino. One loose pebble underfoot is a reminder to keep focused.

Belorado is another lovely old town, centered on a plaza and a church. We are so happy when we finally find Pensione Toni. It’s a big room with 4 beds just for us, so we spread out and make ourselves comfortable.

Our feet are throbbing, as if they have a heartbeat and we are concerned. Later, when we join a New Zealander and a New Yorker for cocktails, we are relieved to know that they also have the same problem; blame it on the hard pavement.

Sept. 26- San Juan de Ortega: 15 miles, 5 and one-half hours

Today marks day No. 11; we have already completed one-third of the Camino!

The sunrise makes the fields glow and I have all I can do to stop myself from running through them singing the theme from “The Sound of Music.” Luckily, I resist, since it would have defied the No. 1 Camino rule: don’t take any extra steps that you don’t have to!

The route is flat, until we come upon some very steep inclines and descents, which luckily were very short. We pass Atapuerca, which displays the earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe. Then, we see a sign which says “Oasis Ahead.” Is that salsa music we hear in the distance?

We come across a young woman selling food and cold drinks for a donation and giving out slices of cold melon; so refreshing! Two pilgrims who do not know each other start dancing and everyone is laughing and clapping.

With a population of 18, the small town is centered around a lovely stone church. Our Hotel Rural La Hanera is very comfortable. We sit outside with a view of the church and enjoy some wine, while conversing with a couple from Iceland and a young man from New York. When the owner notices all the hungry pilgrims patiently waiting for the restaurant to open at 7 p.m., he decides to open 15 minutes earlier for us and we are all grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Camino: Sept. 19 -22, 2016

image

Sept. 19- To Puenta de la Reina: 15 miles, seven hours

On our way out of Pamplona, we walk through the beautiful park and gardens and then to the University, where they stamp our pilgrim passport.

Today, the walking is very difficult; steep inclines and descents with lots of loose, rocky terrain. We’re walking with a group from Germany and I make them laugh when I say that I will be declining a drink “on the rocks” at cocktail time.

We are so happy to have a private room at the Albergue Puenta de la Reina. We sit outside and enjoy a cold beer on their private terrace, run into our Australian friend and plan to have dinner together.

Sept. 20- To Estella: 14 miles, six hours

It’s always nice when the terrain starts out flat. As we walk, we watch a farmer plowing his fields, then stop to breathe in the wonderful smell of the rich, red earth; such a wonderful, clean smell!

We always take a rest in each small town we pass, sometimes to have a snack or just to use the facilities. In this particular place, the woman behind the counter was complaining, in Spanish, that everyone on the bathroom line should be paying something. I suggested to her, in Spanish that she put up a sign in different languages and charge a fee (marketing 101).

We are lucky to find a private room in the Capuchino Monastery tonight. No laundry service is available, so we start our laundry and then sit in the garden, enjoying a cold beer. We laugh with a German couple and agree that this isn’t a bad way to do laundry.

Sept. 21- To Los Arcos: 13 miles, six hours

I love walking through the towns early in the morning. They look like a movie set. With the old stone buildings and the town center with the church and plaza, it’s always a surprise when someone passes you in contemporary clothing or a car drives by.

First thing in the morning, we come upon the famous Fuente del Vino: a free wine spigot for pilgrims from one of the local wineries. We decline, but the Europeans make up for us!

We are in the Rioja wine country and pass through miles of vineyards. As we’re walking, we think we hear music. Around the bend, in the middle of nowhere, there is a husband and wife playing the violin and accordion for donations.

Tonight, we are staying at Pensione Los Arcos. Jose, the manager, not only welcomes us, but gives us his cell phone number in case we need anything. We enjoy discussing the day’s adventures with people from Sweden, Australia and Utah.

Sept. 22- To Logroño: 17 miles, 7 and one-half hours

The flat city pavement and the flat dirt road give us a false sense of security. While we knew to expect inclines and descents today, we are surprised to find that there were so many and that they were so steep.

I try to enjoy the beautiful vistas and keep my mind off the inevitable. The large blocks of farmland in beiges, browns and greens look like suede in the sunlight. A farmer and his dogs guide a flock of sheep on a steep parcel of land. A trail through the forest was a welcome respite from the sun.

We happen to land here on one of the biggest festival days of the year- the Harvest Festival. The plaza is teaming with people and filled with musicians and dancers. It’s so exciting to be a part of it!

Tonight, we’re staying at the Alburgue La Bilbaina. While it’s a great location and very clean, we could have done without the many old, uneven, ceramic tile steps that lead up to our room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

,