Oct. 10 -12: Palas de Rei to O Pedrouzo

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You never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

Oct. 10: Palas de Rei- 16 miles, seven hours

It always surprises me when a pilgrim walks by me smoking, but in Europe cigarettes are part of the culture. It’s very common to see generations of the same family all smoking together at the local cafe.

As we travel through woods and farmlands, I sense that the inclines and descents are steeper than yesterday. We’re traveling through dairy country and corn cribs are everywhere. They look like little houses on stilts and are used to dry and store the corn used to feed the animals. To make the time go by, we play a game, calling out the oldest (one said 1856 on it), newest, most decorated and most likely to fall apart if blown on. I tell Mr. Wiz* that I’d like one for my birthday. I hope he knows I’m kidding.

Pensíon Palas is a bit outside of the city and we’re glad to finally arrive. It’s nothing special; plain, but clean. We head into town and see our Canadian friend, who asks us to join her for a glass of wine. We enjoy hearing about her adventurous life, starting with boarding school in Belgium, then living abroad in different cities. She excuses herself in order to enjoy her bathtub (most rooms only come with a shower) and we head to dinner.

Oct. 11: Arzúa- 16 miles, seven hours

The forecast says rain and we trudge up and down through farmland all day long. Just as we’re heading for the steepest part of our trek, we meet a pilgrim from Lake George, New York. We pass the time with my stories of the many happy childhood vacations there. The Caldo Gallego we find for lunch is good and hot and it hits the spot. It’s my favorite soup, made with onions, white beans, potatoes, kale and/or cabbage.

Just as we see the sign for the turn-off to Casa Garea, the rain turns to drizzle. As we head into the eucalyptus forest, the wonderful scent and the singing birds help us to forget for the moment that we feel like two wet rags.

The buildings are old, but the beamed ceilings, stone and starched white linen curtains give it a homey feel. After settling in, we enjoy a glass of wine in the common area. Our Lake George friend greets us with a big smile and announces that this is the first time on the Camino that she will have a private room. We tease her that she will not be able to return to the albergue bunk beds. When we notice a single place setting at one of the dining room tables, we invite her to join us for dinner and a good time is had by all.

Oct. 12: O Pedrouzo- 15 miles, seven hours

It’s drizzling, but we head back through the eucalyptus forest to return to the Camino route with a spring in our step, thinking of the bacon and egg breakfast we plan to treat ourselves to.

The rain is playing a game with us all day; every time we decide we’re too hot and take off our raincoats, it starts to drizzle again. In the end, we decide that the cool mist feels better.

We’re walking right through farms all afternoon, so much so that at one point a farmer asks us all to stop, so his cows can cross the road to his other pasture. The drizzle turns to a pouring rain and the cows are the only ones that seem content.

Pension LO is only a couple of years old. It’s all white decor and contemporary feel are a welcome change. I like the quote that decorates the wall above our bed in script: “The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been and the memories we’ve made along… the Way.”

Only breakfast is served in their dining room and we are not looking forward to having to head to town for dinner in the driving rain. The woman at reception asks us if we’d like to order pizza from a local takeout place, the two couples eating in the dining room give us a thumbs-up on the food they are enjoying and we are so happy that we don’t need to venture out. We enjoy a cozy evening, dining and chatting with the couples from California and Washington state.

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

Oct. 7 – 9: Sarria to Portomarín

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Oct. 7: Sarria

Our next stop should be O’Cebreiro, but there are no rooms available anywhere (we even try three towns before and after), so we opt to bus to Sarria. As the Camino gains in popularity, it’s becomes harder to be spontaneous. Then again, we could have followed the three pilgrims who left at 5 a.m., walked in the dark for three and a half hours, then waited in front of the municipal albergue for two hours until they opened (they don’t accept reservations) and did make it to O’Cebreiro.

We are on the bus to Lugo, but the bus arrives late and we miss our connection. Rather than wait four hours, we find that there is a train leaving sooner and decide to walk over to the train station. Two women pilgrims from South Africa ask if they can tag along. Chatting with them in the bus station makes the time go by and we are soon on our way.

Hotel Alfonso IX can’t seem to decide if it’s a modern or an Old World hotel, so it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a perfect day to sit on their outside patio right on the river and enjoy a glass of wine. We soon strike up a conversation with a pilgrim from Canada. This woman has grit; not only is she a single mom, she’s traveling alone and got bedbugs her very first night on the Camino!

A word here about bedbugs; we’ve heard a lot of horror stories along the way, but have never personally experienced any. When we travel, we are in the habit of checking every hotel bed, regardless of the hotel’s level. As soon as we enter the room, we strip the bed and check it from top to bottom, looking for any black dots. If none, we are good to go.

Oct. 8: Sarria

First priority on our rest day is to get our laundry done. The laundromats are a pleasure to visit; clean, with bowls of hard candies, tissues and copies of the latest tabloid magazines for their guests. The magazines help us practice our Spanish, even though we don’t know any of the people that are featured.

One of the other pilgrims doing laundry introduces himself. He is a professor at the University of Alabama with a Ph.D. in divinity studies and is taking a survey about spirituality while on the Camino. Would we mind completing a survey? We are happy to do it and it helps the time to pass quickly. He jots down his email and says he’d be willing to share his findings once the data has been analyzed.

Oct. 9: Portomarín – 14 miles, 6 1/2 hours

Nothing like starting the day with a steep vertical incline, but we know we are headed to a breakfast of eggs, bacon and thick hunks of bread, so we power up and keep moving.

The path will be more crowded now, all the way to Santiago. Pilgrims that walk these last 100 km will also be entitled to a Compostela, the document of completion. We chat with pilgrims from Canada, Seattle and California and all agree that we can tell the newbies by their clean boots. Somehow, between the barking dogs, mooing cows and throngs of new pilgrims, we seem to lose the crowd, find ourselves all alone and appreciate the silence. The faint sound of bagpipes coming from the woods sounds magical. We come around a turn and in the middle of nowhere stands a young man dressed in traditional garb, playing proudly, for tips.

We are not enjoying crossing over this long bridge. The guard rails are very low on each side and we try to stay right in the middle, not looking down at the river below on the one side or the oncoming traffic on the other.

We are so happy that our hotel is the first one in town. Vistalegre is a brand-new contemporary hotel, only four months old. Though it’s all white, the mix of textures (stone and tile) give it a sophisticated look and the sound of the water sculpture from the glass enclosed garden is a lovely touch. The rooms are not very big, but we vote the shower the best on the Camino.

Later, we run into an older pilgrim from Michigan that we first met at the beginning of the walk. He was initially so shy and withdrawn that we always made it a point to say hello and walk with him a bit. Now, here he was, greeting us heartily, laughing and chatting away. He introduces us to his new friend, another pilgrim who is about his age. It is wonderful to see them interact, despite the fact that neither one speaks the others language. It is said that the Camino provides and once again, it’s beautiful to see it unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct. 4 – 6: Rabanal del Camino to Villafranca del Bierzo

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San Nicholas Real Monastery

Oct. 4: Rabanal del Camino- 13 miles, five hours

I prayed, practiced positive thinking and E.F.T. (the psychological form of acupuncture) and even had a long talk with my right knee, but she was stubborn. She had no intention of healing until she was ready. And, in 10 days as quickly as it happened, my knee miraculously healed.

I am so happy that I think even the scruffy brush we are walking through is beautiful. In the quiet of the morning, I find myself hypnotized by the mosaic patterns on the hard ground made by the grids of the many boot soles that have passed here before me (over 300,000 completed the Camino in 2017). I look up to notice that the earth is such a beautiful copper color it looks as if it’s been painted. It’s a fairly flat path, so I amuse myself by wondering what is behind the ancient stone buildings (some thousands of years old), with majestic wooden doors. Are the homes beautiful and modern inside? Or, does the outside reflect the inside?

The front door of the Hotel Rural Casa Indie opens to a courtyard and all the rooms encircle it. The room’s French doors and beamed ceilings give the rustic feel we expected, but the old wooden floor planks are so uneven that a trip to the bathroom in the dark will be an adventure.

Before dinner, we head to the church for Latin Vespers led by the Benedictine monks. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The original stone on the barrel-vaulted ceilings and the walls peeks out from ancient paint. When the lights are turned off, the crucifix on the wall behind the altar, lit from above, has an even more dramatic presence. One of the monks walks around the pews and blesses us all with holy water. Afterward, we greet one of the monks who speaks English and he is so pleased to hear that we enjoyed the experience.

Oct. 5: Molinaseca: 16 miles, eight hours

What a lovely way to start the day; first watching the sun rise as we are walking, then being serenaded by a young pilgrim, who has carried his guitar with him every step of the way.

We’re on dirt roads most of the day, which narrow and widen as we walk. My favorite are the narrowest parts, when only one person can barely fit and the trees envelop you.

The closer we get to Alto Altar, the highest point of our entire journey (4550 feet) and Cruz de Farro, the more emotional I become. The plain metal cross stands on a mountain of stones like a beacon to pilgrims. Two days ago, I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom and now I am almost there, ready to fulfill one of the highlights of our journey. We’ve brought two rocks from home and wrote the names of two special people who are very dear to us. We find just the right spot, wipe our tears off them, say a prayer, then nestle them in among the many other rocks. The ancient legend is that by leaving the stones behind, you are turning over your burdens to God.

The steep inclines and descents seem as if they will never end. Between the loose rock and shale, horse and cow manure and chestnuts in shells that resemble Nerf balls (except that these are covered in needles), you have no choice but to stay focused. I while away the time by thinking of the salad I am hoping to find for lunch. We turn the corner and come upon the cafe where we had the best salad of our 2016 trip. The husband and wife owners are so pleased we have returned and tell us we have made their day.

We quickly settle in at Hostal el Palacio so we can sit outside and have a glass of wine with a view of the river, the bridge and the mountains. The lovely old stone building houses rooms that are a combination of Old World and modern.

We take a walk around town and agree that the town looks like a movie set; the old stone buildings and street lights are all from a time gone by. Four teenage girls sitting on a bench with their iPhones and the Mercedes that cruises by look totally out of place.

Oct. 6: Villafranca del Bierzo: 19 miles, eight hours

It’s better that I didn’t realize beforehand that this would be our longest walk of the Camino. Luckily, it’s in the 70s (great walking weather) and the path starts out fairly flat. A walk through a neighborhood of mansions is particularly entertaining.

It seems as if we are walking up and down through vineyards for miles and miles. All of a sudden, dark clouds sweep over us, the wind picks up and it starts to rain. We already have our rain gear on, so there’s nothing else to do but take turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time on this unending path.

Villafranca del Bierzo (population 3500) traces its origins back to the year 791. The village flourished during the Middle Ages as an important resting spot before the mountains of Galicia for pilgrims on the Camino and still provides that same service all these years later.

Of all the days, we need to walk through the entire town to get to where we are staying: the San Nicholas Real Monastery. The sheer magnitude of the building is overwhelming. Built in the 17th century in the Baroque style, the courtyard and cloisters would be lovely to visit on a nicer day. Our room is small and all white with some basic wooden furniture, but it’s clean and the window shutters open to reveal a view of the town.

As we head up to our room, we are surprised to see our friend from Arizona. We catch up and promise to keep in touch, hoping we can plan to meet up again.

After such a long day, we agree that we will not venture out this evening. We are the only ones in the dining room and admire the frescoes on the wall and the vaulted ceilings. Enjoying dinner in our private dining room to the sound of a Gregorian chant playing softly in the background, this may not be the best menu del dia we’ve ever had, but tonight it sure seems like it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct. 1- 3: Astorga

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Bishop’s Palace, Astorga

Oct. 1

We’re on the bus headed to Astorga. My face is pressed against the glass, as I watch the pilgrims walking by on a narrow strip of dirt so close to the road. I wish I were there, walking with them.

We arrive at Hotel Ciudad de Astorga. If we were walking, we probably would not be staying at such a modern hotel, but since I’m spending more time than usual in the room, it seems a good choice.

On the Camino, you have your choice of accommodations: donativos (a straw mat on the floor for a donation), albergues ( pilgrim hostels: bunk beds, dormitory style or private rooms), casa rurales (similiar to a bed-and-breakfast) and hotels (two stars and up). Some pilgrims like to reserve ahead and some like to walk into a town and be spontaneous.

Astorga is a lively town (population 12,000) full of historic buildings. In medieval times, because of its convergence to so many of the pilgrim routes, it boasted 20 pilgrim hospitals.

Oct. 2

Last time we were here, we missed seeing the Bishop’s Palace (Palacio Episcopal), so we head there first. After a fire in the early 1900s, the bishop asked his friend, Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, to redesign what would be his home. Unfortunately, the neo-gothic palace, complete with turrets caused such an uproar that the bishop never had the opportunity to live there.

I never get tired of the watching the two figures strike the bell every hour on baroque facade of the government building in the Plaza Mayor. It’s a great place to people watch, so we head there to have a leisurely late lunch. We enjoy a three-course menu del dia, complete with water, bread and a bottle of wine for 12 euros each ($14.40). The pilgrims all start arriving and sharing stories of their day. We are so glad to run into our friend from Arizona. He seems like a different person; he met an older woman from France who he is walking with and seems so happy to have the company. I feel like the little girl in the class that is the only one not invited to the birthday party; hoping I can walk again soon.

Oct. 3

Do we get back on the Camino tomorrow or do we bus somewhere else? I’m eager to walk, but all morning my knee has been throbbing. Just as we sit down to talk, I could swear that I hear a voice whisper in my ear to go ahead and walk and that I will be just fine. We make our plans to start walking again and I sleep so well, with no apprehension as to what tomorrow will bring.

Sept. 25 – 28: Burgos

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sept. 22 – 24: Logroño

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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

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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

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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.