May the Holiday Season fill you with laughter, overflow your cup with wine, bring you closer to those you love, and spread harmony throughout your home.
Best wishes to all,
Tales. Tips. Reviews. Inspiration.
I’d met up with a couple of pilgrims I knew the night before and thought I’d start the day off with them. They took too long to get ready, so I finally decided to go off on my own.
Spain had an incredible array of very old buildings. The house above was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist posting the photo. Was it a metaphor for doing the best that we could with our emotional, physical and psychological baggage? Possibly.
Before I knew it, I’d reached Monte de Gozo, only 5 km before Santiago. This town, I’d read, overlooked Santiago. With this in mind, I’d planned to stop at a café and contemplate my destination while admiring the view. I would ponder my journey, I thought, and write important lessons learned and record noteworthy moments.
There was nowhere to stop. Pilgrims went past the monument, down the hill, and I was soon crossing the rotting boards of the bridge into the city itself.
Welcome to Santiago de Compostela! I couldn’t have planned a less-eventful entrance. I was not only disappointed, I was angry.
Cafés dotted the street on which I walked. I picked one and went in. It took a while to drink my café con leche, and I momentarily contemplated turning back to Monte de Gozo so I could ponder the way I’d planned.
Eventually, I had to keep going forward. I dropped my pack off at an albergue on the way and wandered down to the pilgrim office. The Cathedral could wait.
The Camino wanders past the museum entrance of the Cathedral complex, so I took the photo above. The Cathedral is around the side of it.
The Certificate was a two-minute affair. The lack of ceremony at my arrival was not what had triggered my anger. It was the fact that I’d wanted to continue to Fisterra, to the end of the world, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go. And I didn’t want to stop walking. My body craved to continue.
A few days before, I’d mentioned my reticence about getting to Santiago to another pilgrim. She’d shown me her journal where she’d recorded sayings from the Wall of Wisdom before O Pedrouzo.
As soon as you start to love the road, you hate the idea of getting there. In that moment, I realized, one of the lessons the Camino Francés had taught me was this. I loved the road.
The Santiago Cathedral outdid most of the cathedrals I’d seen, maybe even Notre-Dame de Paris. I went in many times to sit in the pews to admire the beauty, take in the feel of the place and got to see the butafumeiro, or incense burner, being swung back and forth until it nearly hit the ceiling.
I wandered around the rest of the city, the remainders of the day. There were green areas and gorgeous streets, everywhere. I loved it.
Outside of the two days off, I’d walked every day for the last 36 days. And now, I had no destination to reach. Parque Alameda became my default place to get rid of energy. I went around in its circles until I felt somewhat depleted of the urge within me.
You might ask if there are more pilgrimages in my future?
Without a doubt!
Next post: Leaving Santiago
The Camino del Norte is a possibility, as is the LePuy section to St-Jean. The latter is known as one of the most beautiful arms of the Camino de Santiago. Or there is always the Via Francigena. Failing this, Nepal still calls.
See more Camino photos: http://www.elcaminophotos.com/#intro
The end of the Camino Francés: Santiago. I was so close, I could almost taste it.
The trail soon led down into a valley. My back had sent distress signals, right from the first step that morning, but I hobbled along. Fog grew thicker as we descended. Rocks on the path were wet and slippery, but even if sore and tired, it was nice to have interesting terrain.
After 10 km, we’d reached the bridge in to Portomarín. I could barely walk.
We found a nice café, overlooking the square and church below. The locals relocated this place of worship one rock at a time from the valley floor, to allow for construction of a reservoir. How impressive was that?
I was walking with two other pilgrims and told them I was going no further. I ended up staying in Portomarín a day and a half.
Fog hung around the city, sometimes till noon or 1 pm. When we left it behind, two mornings later, as we climbed out of the valley, it provided a multitude of picturesque photos, for hours after.
Every day, we met at least 20 or 30 dogs, free to roam at will. Most were friendly. Those who weren’t were chained chained up and barked as we walked past.
I’d planned to go 5 km further than Palas de Rei, but my feet hurt, and my back told me to stop. So I did. Listen. It’s what the Camino had taught me.
I now knew I wouldn’t have the time nor the energy to go to Fisterra. Santiago would be the end of my journey. But if I could make the 31 km to Arzúa, I would only have 2 days of 20 km each to reach my destination.
The sun provided a stunning display as I left Palas de Rei. The strange small building in the center of the photo was a granary. Almost every yard had one.
After 17 km, I took a break every 3, 4 or 5 km. I’d sit out on a terrace and drink a café con leche or enjoy a glass of freshly pressed orange juice and ponder my 30-some days on the Camino.
Locals sometimes manned little booths with food and refreshments, on the trail. I was always grateful for this. The raspberries weren’t extremely sweet, but I knew the nutrients inside them would help me reach my destination.
I stumbled into Arzúa, exhausted and in pretty serious pain. One of the hospitaleros had no room left, but she took me to an albergue with spare beds. Then she sat me down with food and made it clear she would pay for it.
I hadn’t slept very well and my back hurt the next morning, but it didn’t matter. I only had 20 km to reach O Pedrouzo. I was truly going to make it! Only then did I realize I’d never really dared to hope I’d be able to reach Santiago on foot.
Most of the first part of the day’s trail was forest with strands of eucalyptus trees. I couldn’t always see them, but their presence added a deep, rich smell to the air.
A conflict grew within me as I passed the marker above. I only had 20 km left. Now that I knew I was going to make, I wasn’t sure I wanted to arrive. Part of me wanted to turn back and do it all over again.
Later on, I watched the sunset as I ate my wood-oven pizza. Add a glass of wine, a good book and a few friends to have a chat with?
It was the perfect evening!
Next post: Camino Flashbacks: Day 34 – Santiago
More Camino flashbacks. The little dog above took a liking to me. We’d run into each other on the trail, and he’d come over and say hello. Sometimes he walked beside me before heading off ahead. I found our friendship touching.
We spent the day walking through fields of grape vines in full fall apparel. I kept taking photo after photo, thinking the last one would be the best.
A few towns speckled the day. In Cacabelos, I spotted the mural below. Loosely translated, the banner said, Humanity suffers the consequences of its uncontrolled progress. When will we succeed in harmonizing science and nature? It was such a complex piece of art, I could have spent a full day, looking at it, and still not understood its full range of symbolism.
The next stop was Villafranca del Bierzo.. In medieval times, Villafranca was known as ‘little Compostela’. Pilgrims, unable to continue all the way to Santiago de Compostela, received the same pardon for their sins obtained in Santiago.
It was pitch black when I left the albergue. A cement barrier separated the road from the path, so it was safe and easy to follow. Nonetheless, it was eery. Being in a valley meant tiny sounds echoed, and I couldn’t tell if they came from close or far. By the time the sun came up, we’d climbed our way out.
Most of the day followed the road. There was an alternative route, but since I didn’t have a guidebook, I listened to the fears of others and chose not to take it. Later on, I learned that it was a beautiful trail over a mountain and through forest.
The last four kilometers to LaFaba, five kilometers before O Cebreiro, were a delight. We picked our way over rocks and enjoyed the smell of the forest. LaFaba had a wonderful energy and the best vegetarian restaurant!
I met a pilgrim I knew in the courtyard of the albergue, looking out over the mountains. He’d arrived hours earlier, he said, but couldn’t pull himself away.
The climb over O Cebreiro in the early morning light was a Camino highlight. Below is the shortened progression of it.
I came down the other side and bypassed Triacastela – the guidebook stop for this stage – to stay in an ecological albergue: El Beso, in the town of A Balsa. The owners had renovated an old stone house and turned it into an albergue.
Although it looked rough on the outside (I almost didn’t go in), the areas in use were nicely redone. The vegetarian meals were also worth the stop.
As the flow of pilgrims tapered out in the fall, many of the albergues along the Camino closed. I knew the albergue I planned to stay at closed at the end of October, but it was only the 29th. When I got there, I found the metal gate locked. Closed for the season.
Shortly after 3 pm, I stopped at the bakery in the next town. It too was locked. I could hear them inside and knocked, but no one answered.
I walked five more kilometers before seeing a local and asked if any albergues were open close by. The man directed me down the road. Thirty kilometers or not, the tiredness fled from my body. I nearly ran the half a kilometer.
People with backpacks sat on at one of the tables outside the albergue. They were open! And what a treasure Casa Morgade was; one of the nicest albergues of my whole trip.
It was also a renovated stone house, but in better shape than El Beso. The dorms were gorgeous with single beds and not bunks – and sheets with quilts (luxury!), the outside patio boasted views over the countryside, and they had a covered area in case of rain. Supper that night was memorable. Had I had more time, I would have stayed a few days.
Next post: Camino Flashbacks: Day 30- 33
What happened when you walked day after day after day? Perspectives changed. So did the things worthy of your time and a photograph.
At the town of La Virgen del Camino, 7 km after León, the trail split into two toward Hospital de Órbigo, my destination of choice for that day. The right route mostly followed the highway. The left route went through fields. The first was two kilometers shorter. The signs were confusing, and somehow, I ended up on the longer route.
We did indeed weave through field upon field, but at least there were distractions, both natural and contrived. For example, these boots left on the Camino post. It wasn’t unusual to see such a sight, on the Camino. And it never ceased to fascinate me; the range of meanings to the symbol seemed endless.
The small cement bin above was by a large agricultural research centre. It had loads of frogs in it. I spent a good half hour, taking photos and watching them.
A bit later, I was seated on a big rock, pondering why I found myself in the middle of nowhere in Northern Spain – I still had no clear answer to why I was on the Camino, when Sydney from Australia wandered into view. We’d run into each other a few times along the way. I really appreciated his dry sense of humor.
We chatted, and he talked me into staying in Villavente, the small town above, an hour’s walk before Hospital de Órbigo. His reasoning was sound. We’d already done over 30 km. Why did we need to do more?
When I got up the next morning, my old friends, Neil and Tatiana, were in the foyer of the albergue. I was thrilled. We met up with Christine, another friend, later in the day. It was both odd and nice for me to have many people to talk to as I walked.
The trail passed next to an old Pagan place of ritual. The keeper had prepared a free food table for pilgrims, and the spot had wonderful energy. This was the second place (first place, Church of Santa Lucía – another story for later) along the Camino where I would have unrolled my sleeping bag and settled in. Had I been alone, I likely would have stayed.
The dog next to the scarecrow belonged to a pilgrim. I only saw two dogs, walking the Camino. The owner of this dog wasn’t friendly, but the other pilgrim was approachable. His dog was also smaller and a bit mangy-looking. I asked if the trail would not be too much for such a small dog? He laughed and said, No way. The dog was tougher than he was.
I previously published the photo below in post, Day 24. I’d included my rest day in Tardajos in that number. I have not included it in this list. The photo was taken right outside San Juan de la Vega, some 3 km before Astorga. It had been a good day, and Neil, Tatiana, Christine and I decided to celebrate. Food and wine came next.
After the festivities, I left Neil, Tatiana and Christine in Astorga and carried on to Murias de Rechivaldo. Supper that night was vegetarian and carried well wishes for the journey.
The walk up the mountain was amazing. I already posted my pleasure on this hike as Day 25. Since then, I’ve read Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. According to Shirley, in the 80’s, Foncebadón was abandoned and had packs of wild dogs who sometimes attacked pilgrims. She said it was a scary place to walk through.
There was still an edge to the place, no doubt there, one I would like to go back and explore in greater depth. To give the reader a sense of this, above is a photo I took late that night. The fog/clouds were so thick, it looked like the stage set for a horror movie. And yet, there was something peaceful in it, too.
Photo above was taken early the next morning. The views, hidden the day before, were really outstanding.
I was a bit sad to leave and was even sadder when one of the other pilgrims found a kind of salamander hurt on the trail. Poor little thing. It tried to run away when he shone his light on it, but it could barely move.
It was really cold, so maybe she’d (yes, I thought of it as a she) was moving slowly and someone had stepped on her? There was no way to know. After much discussion, one of the men pilgrims picked her up and put her in some grass, well away from traffic. Hopefully, she’d be all right.
The two kilometers to Cruz del Ferro (Iron Cross) were an easy ascent. This was a special moment along the trail. Many pilgrims had carried rocks from home to leave underneath. Some brought rocks for family and friends, too. These were meant to represent the leaving of sins behind.
It had rained, and the rocks on the path were a bit slippery. Nonetheless, the descent was incredibly fun. And the scenery so beautiful!
Even if tired by the time we reached Molinaseca, 8 km from Ponferrada, we thought we’d take the long way into the city. Big mistake.
I was hiking with someone, and though we had about the same pace, she liked to take very, very long breaks. This meant it was already past my curfew of 2 pm when my energy lagged. I’d also slept little the night before. I’d gone to bed late, every bed taken in the dorm and the beds snug together. It seemed like every little noise echoed. Every time a pilgrim came to bed, went to the bathroom, coughed, snorted, or played with their phone, they woke all of us.
From our point of entrance to the city, it wasn’t clear how to reach the albergue. We finally got there at 4 pm. I was exhausted and more than a little grumpy. Not a good way to start a social evening.
Next post: Camino Flashbacks: Day 26 – 29
Christine On Big Trip – an amazing woman!
Close enough to exert its spiritual pull, the city of Santiago now called to us lowly pilgrims. It was a main topic of discussion at the albergues. When are you reaching Santiago? I’ll be there on such and such a date. How about you?
Technically, we’d been in the meseta since Burgos, but the empty section of 17 km after Carrión de los Condes was the most dreaded. There were no trees for shade or to stop the wind and no cafés to warm up in. The fields went on for miles and miles and miles.
With clouds over the sun, we didn’t have to worry about the burning heat, but I did feel a twinge of the meseta’s tremendous power. It rained for an hour or so, tiny drops that would normally have dampened the earth and freshened the air. Instead, the wind whipped my cape around repeatedly and soaked me. Every. Inch.
Despite this, I managed the 17 km fairly well. I had no watch to determine the time and no GPS to measure the distance. I put one foot in front of the other and tried to think of the important things in my life: my children, my grandchildren, my friends, the weight of my pack, my swollen feet, the ache in my heel, the way my hips had started to rebel and my need to emotionally release the anger I had towards my mother.
The last three kilometers to Terradillos were beautiful, with long-needled shrubs, grabbing at us as we walked.
Heading into Sahagún, the only city between Terradillos de los Templarios and Bercianos del Real Camino, the landscape started getting more interesting, again. The trail was next to a highway, but I was happy to have color around me and a break in those endless fields.
Instead of following the highway into the city, I took a detour to the Ermita de la Virgen del Puente. Unfortunately, it was closed, but as a spot for a brief rest, it was perfect.
These two incredibly beautiful statues were on the road out of the Ermita; remnants of the former greatness of Sahagún..
I’d found the trail out-of-town the night before, and I left early. These morning skies never ceased to fill me with awe.
Trees lined the path, and fall reddened the foliage. The photo below was one of those lucky breaks. The morning light was just right when I took it.
My destination, Mansilla de las Mulas, had the most amazing Roman bridge. There were many of these along the trail, broad and sweeping across empty expanses of ground, likely built when the rivers were much wider.
This was a bit of a strange town, one I hadn’t warmed up to by the time I left. I’m not sure why. The hospitaleros, the albergue, the food, all had been good. I just didn’t feel completely comfortable in it.
I’d met Herb and David earlier on in the Camino. And Herb (on the left) was always telling me I walked too fast. I should slow down, and then I’d see more around me.
So I decided I’d walk with them for a full day – at their speed. It turned out to be pretty nice. Herb had downloaded old rock music. It pumped out of his iPad as we walked.
León was my favourite city along the Camino. The food was outstanding, people were friendly, and the city overflowed with historical and cultural attractions. Had I stayed in Léon for a rest day, I’m not sure I could have pulled away to finish the Camino.
Next post: Camino Francés: Day 24
As I write these Camino Flashbacks, a longing for the road wraps a tight fist around my heart. I now understand why the first Camino is rarely the last.
Ten kilometers from Burgos, we reached Tardajos. I sat at a café, and I informed Marghereta that I was going no further. It was barely 9:30 am, and yet my body had reached its limit. A nice hostel opened later in the day. I’d stay there.
I sat in the same coffee shop until 1 pm. Pilgrims ambled through. Some I hadn’t seen in a while, and it was pleasant to have a quick chat without feeling the need to rush away. One of my favourite couples, Neil and Tatiana, arrived and decided they’d also stay the night.
When the hostel slid open its large metal gate, I was pleased to see a protected courtyard. The wind had been brutal. Even better? The food turned out to be amazing.
As I pushed open the door to the dorm, things got even more amazing. There were only three beds in it! From the window, open fields, as far as the eye could see. And a private bathroom with packets of shampoo and shower gel – an unexpected luxury. I decided to stay an extra day and rest.
It was pouring when I left the hostel two days later, but I didn’t care. The rest had done me good, and I was anxious to get going. The rain soon stopped, but the dark clouds kept rolling their way around the edges of the horizon, threatening to dump more precipitation on us.
I’m not sure why, but as you can see from the photo below, the colours were particularly intense that day. I noticed this on a few other days, too.
As if out of nowhere, the steeple of the Hontanas church appeared from a dip in the landscape. Most of the small towns were in hollows like this one.
I was no longer wearing shorts. The weather was cool and the sun absent.
The historic Camino passed through the archway of the Convento de San Antón. No one knows the purpose of this. Except for an albergue, most of the buildings were unused.
After passing through the small city of Castrojeriz (see cover photo), we climbed the Alto de Mostelares. The up part wasn’t bad, but the down was rough on the knees.
Boadilla del Camino had three pilgrim albergues. Two were closed. Good thing the open one was nice. It was six kilometers to the next town, and I’d already done over 29. The views were fabulous.
I was glad to arrive early in the day. Some pilgrims were later turned away due to lack of space. I felt badly for them. It was cold and dark by then.
The next morning, it was even colder and super black out. I wanted to leave early but didn’t have a head lamp. So I waited for someone I knew to leave and took photos, like the one below.
Anna-Lise, a young pilgrim I’d met the day before, was out the door ten minutes or so after me. I asked if I could tag along. She had no problem finding her way out-of-town.
Another pilgrim later told me it had taken her a good half hour to find the right road. The town only had about six streets, but there were a few different arrows, and it was confusing.
It wasn’t that unusual to see fake yellow arrows on rocks, the road or sides of buildings. Business owners and even towns sometimes added a few to divert the traffic. They were effective; a number of pilgrims had been taken in. One young man told me he’d walked an extra five kilometers one day because he’d followed an arrow to a town.
Carrión de los Condes was one of the towns visible in the distance. Seeing them, far off like this, was like an oasis one never quite reaches. It made it difficult mentally to keep walking, and those last two or three kilometers took forever.
Camino de Santiago Forum – the most extensive Camino resource out there.
Johnnie Walker – Good for Camino and other long-distance trails.
Continuing on the series of Camino memories, here is a brief recap of day 10 – 13 of my time on the Camino Francés, in Northern Spain.
I left way before the sunrise, and I ended up lost and at the top of a hill with no lights or arrows. The night was incredibly quiet. Yes, the air was cool, but not cold enough to be chilly. I wandered back down and finally found the cement marker for the fork I’d missed. The sunrise was so beautiful. The extra kilometer or two never bothered me till later in the day when they were added to the 32+ kilometers I’d already walked.
I got to Azofra, 18 km from Ventosa, and sat at a table outside a café. My feet ached so badly, I figured I’d have to stop there for the night.
A couple sitting at another table to my left heard my conversation with another pilgrim and pulled out their pharmacy. They had tape, blister pads, etc; a wonderful array of products. The woman, Dorothy, couldn’t believe that I didn’t have blisters. I took off my socks to show her the soles of my feet: red and swollen but blister-free.
Dorothy and her husband, Nick, chose some thick tape and told me to tape my feet. I taped my left foot crosswise with their roll. On the right, I used my duct tape. We also put feminine napkins in my boots for padding.
The photo above was on the seven kilometers from Cirueña to Santo Domingo. It would be my longest day – some 33 or 34 kilometers.
I was pretty tired from the day before and was glad to walk alone. Sometimes, with others, keeping up my end of the conversation was difficult.
Along the trail, there were often places for pilgrims to sit and rest. Some were stone benches in the middle of nowhere; not very appealing but always welcome. The spot above was especially lovely, especially with the sunrise in the background.
The day was somewhat uninspiring when it came to landscape. Since all the farmers lived in small villages along the way, there weren’t even any farm-yards to look at. The fields went on forever. Sometimes, the trail felt like it did, too.
In Belorado, I’d met up with some people I knew, and we’d decided to stay in the same hostel in Agès. We were back in the forest now and enjoying some welcoming shade. This was the last really warm afternoon we had for a while.
Somewhere around lunch time, I ran into Roland, a young man who’d walked from Switzerland. He was straddling a bike.
After giving him a hug, I asked him why he was riding. He’d hurt his foot, he said. The doctor had recommended he stay off it for a week. So he’d rented a bicycle.
The inside of the church in Agès, above. There were tons of churches along the trail. It wasn’t unusual to go into two or three of a day.
The cold wind swept across the hill as we climbed to the Matagrande plains, the next morning. I was still wearing shorts and shivering while wearing every piece of clothing I owned except my pants. There were too many people around for me to change into them.
I was also tired and more than a bit grumpy as we reached the top. I had yet to take a rest day, and my feet still hurt, though not as badly as before. I’d added another napkin to my boots. This had reduced the pain by 70%, but they still bothered me.
I’d planned on taking the bus from the edges of Burgos to save the long walk in, the only time on the Camino I considered taking a bus! But it was Sunday, and I was saved from breaking one of my golden rules. There was no bus for hours. So we walked in, all 10 kilometers, along busy roads.
Turns out there was a much shorter way. We’d missed the fork at the entrance to the suburbs.
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.
we respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously