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Thursday, May 31, 2007 

CBCR3 just keeps on giving...

A photo I took of Kelly's (of Denise & Kelly, Regina, SK) boots at Finisterre made it onto the CBCR3 website today (http://radio3.cbc.ca/)

(Before I started the camino, I had written into CBCR3 for their 100th podcast contest, and ended up winning some swag from them. When I got back, I wrote to thank them and sent them a few photos, and they decided to use one for the background on their website.)

It was truly surreal to start from day one and listen to Grant Lawrence and the CBCR3 crew along the way (I listened to all 100 podcasts that I had from CBCR3 during this whole trek.) It made for this unique Canadian soundtrack when during a long day of walking.

Will be updating these posts with photos in the next little while - they'll be up as fast as I can upload them...

Monday, May 28, 2007 

Somewhere in between...

My last hours in Santiago were surreal. I spent the last two days on my own. I went to mass in hopes of spotting some of the people I had started the camino with, especially Vivian & Carol, but I think I've missed them the day before, or perhaps they will come later.

I was lucky enough to have both breakfast AND dinner at the posh Parador hotel. They offer a free meal for the first 10 pilgrims @ 9am, 12pm, & 7pm. I can't believe I actually found the unmarked waiting spot. This "secret" is written in a few books (2 German books have it & my Pilipala Press guide from Vancouver also has it), so I expected many more pilgrims, however, when I finally confirmed the "spot" there were only 5 of us!

Breakfast was FANTASTIC, & the company was even better. Some Germans, and super friendly Dutch, and then little Canadian me. I met Christiane who was on her way home. She had been to dinner the night before & said there were only 7 people who came.

I made it to dinner with a few places to spare but the company left little to be desired. Everyone was German (again) except for me. But it was quiet and cold, and when I tried to start a conversation, I was told to "eat before my soup gets cold."


The camino really does "melt" away: pilgrims slowly reintegrate into civilization as worn gear is replaced.

One woman I saw in a cafe had the zipoffs and fleece, but sported a brand new pair of sneakers. Purses and handbags are worn instead of bulging backpacks. And even the pilgrim "look" (one of determination, destination, & openess to their environment) fades a bit into the tourist, self-absorption/reflection, and the once friendly now carry a bit of defensiveness in the city.

But I think most of us hang on to the camino feeling inside each in our own ways. For me it was little things: I went to mass every day I could in Santiago, and congratulated pilgrims waiting outside the Peregrino Office. I visited the convent de Santa Clara, the same order of Sisters that I had met in Castrojeriz in hopes that I could buy a tao (small T crucifix) that I didn't have the money for in Castrojeriz. I went back to "La Comida" and had a great time with the restaurant staff, quite possibly the second best experience for me next to the ringing of the cathedral bells in Santiago.

The final morning in Spain, I went for my last café con leche and croissante across the street. The girl who I had seen back in Leon (the one who said a car had been following her & her friend) came strolling in with some guy and ditched him to sit with me. She was wearing this short chinese print wrap with a sweater, and flipflops & proudly proclaimed that she hadn't even been back to her hostel yet. She went on to explain she had met this Italian guy 5 days ago, and kissed two really cute Irish guys before that and before that...

The Italian guy whom she ditched had finished his coffee, came over and flatly said "bye bye" to her and left.

This girl obviously had a different camino than I did. I excused myself from this slightly disturbing desayuno, grabbed my things and headed on the bus to the airport.

And then the camino threw one more little blessing: Linda (from Berlin), whom I had seen on & off on the camino, was at the airport and was travelling the same flight to London. We ended talking for hours, as our flight was delayed. We had this crazy kindred spirit: she is also a website girl for a car company, and LOVES movies. We talked about the camino, I saw almost all of her photos: it was like walking it all over again. She told me about her incredible experiences along the way... She even had a photo of Heinz, the guy I said "I have a date with an octopus" to. We had some crazy fun at the end, laughing like old friends... If she didn't have such a short time between connecting flights, we would have gone to the London Dungeon to see the torture chambers together. We agreed to make a "date with the dungeon" someday. Hee.

And that's how I left Santiago, Spain, and the physical camino behind - a bit mixed in feeling, but not without spirit and with confidence that I'm bringing a piece of the camino with me wherever I go.

Saturday, May 26, 2007 

Sitting at the end of the world...

I now understand why maybe Santiago was a bit anticlimactic... It was because the REAL fanfare, the "Way to Go, Lola!" banner I was hoping for was in Finisterre.

Finisterre or Fisterra is known as the "end of the world." Travelling time from Santiago is about 2.5 hours by bus, or just under 90km for those who walk it.

It was a fantastic day for a trip to the end of the world. The sun was out, but the breeze from the coast made it not too hot.

I arrived and had a little panic attack; I had only my purse and my rain jacket. I didn't even bring my guide book. As I looked there were still backpacks and sticks and plenty of people looking at their guide books.

"I think I'm a bit under prepared!" I announced to Denise & Kelly who had also taken the bus out to Finisterre with me. "I don't know what I was thinking, no pack, no water..." After a bit of my muttering, Denise calmly said: "Lola, let it go..."

And so, I did. And it was amazing.

2km up to the lighthouse (yes I did the calculation, but totally unnecessary) and there, a camino marker with "0km". There was ocean as far as the eye could see and a calm beyond anything I ever could imagine. Several pilgrims and I just sat and looked out into this with awe and tranquility.

A bronzed boot is left on a rock there, and there were smoldering ashes from a fire someone had lit previously. Denise was the first to throw her boots on the embers. Once she threw her wool sock on, the fire caught and 'whoosh!' - it went up.

I decided to take the opportunity with the one thing I thought I could burn, the one thing that was by far the most useful thing I could have besides my boots: my hankerchief.

This red kerchief, now full of holes had been used as a bandana, headwrap, scarf, kleenex, eyemask, nosemask. I had soaked up the sweat on every day I walked and had been washed and worn until it had several holes in it. You can see this hankerchief in almost every picture taken of me. Being a true icon of my camino, it deserved a good send-off.

Into the flames it went.

After a nice long stare at the ocean, and relishing a few more burning sessions (yes, I am possibly a closet pyro) Denise, Kelly & I went looking for some food & then a beach. It was a great beach with millions of beached crabs and many scallop shells along the shore & we had just enough time to enjoy the water on our feet before heading back to the bus stop.

I had mentioned Denise & Kelly before, and about how they would take their time, walk & stop when they pleased, and somehow always managed to get a private room, much less find a place to stay, for the evening - even at 6:30pm! D & K are this sweet couple from Regina, SK and are just adorable to watch. Denise is determined and "go go go" but only in contrast to the
easy-going Kelly. Both are intent listeners, calm & content with their environment wherever they are, and experience everything with joy and love. The thing I love about them is that they hold hands as they walk or sometimes when they sit together.

My theory is that because they are so open to it, they receive the gifts they deserve so much. They are truly blessed, but at the same time, I'm pretty sure they make their own blessings. That's the DK factor...

AND, this DK factor is jaw-droppingly effective! I got to experience the full DK effect at Finisterre.

We made it back to the bus stop just in time as the bus for Santiago pulled in. As per usual, there were plenty of pilgrims waiting - being the last bus back to town, it was expected to be the busiest, and quite often they need to call 2 buses to handle the load.

The bus pulls up and the crowd, of course, surges towards the door. Two false alarms later,
the bus driver finally allows the mass of pilgrims to board, and the pushing begins.

Maybe its a Canadian thing, or maybe it's just the Denise & Kelly factor, but I had no desire to join the swarm and simply hung back as the pilgrims pushed their way onto the bus. Denise stated plainly "The other bus will open up."

The crazy German woman next to us was screaming for her husband to come as she was behind the crowd - she was so worried that they wouldn't get on, and so panicked she began stomping her feet as she yelled!

Lo & behold, the 2nd bus pulled up, and as the last 15 pilgrims neared the first bus, the bus driver basically said "ok, onto the 2nd bus..." Several other pilgrims panicked and asked "To Santiago??" but the busdriver said "of course."

Denise, Kelly & I (and the screaming German woman with her husband) plus a few others enjoyed a 2/3 empty bus on the way home.

I tell ya, the DK factor is amazing. I have been trying to put it to use near the end of the camino, but I think I had to really "let it go" before I could get it. I have been wanting to do this for a long time, & now that I know the feeling, I have to say, it is SO worth it.

I saw M for the last time today... she left around 6am this morning to walk to Finisterre. I know I will see her again someday, but goodbyes are tough. I was really lucky to have so much time with my self-proclaimed camino mother... I wish for her a safe journey and I hope that she takes care of herself, & keeps strong like she is. She needs to do things for herself and by
herself, and I hope that she realizes this before the end of her camino. I miss her very much already.

The day ended nicely at "La Comida", a restaurante that specializes in Italian, Greek, & Tunisian food. (I have eaten more than my share of sea food, so a little oregano is really really welcome) on a side street next to la plaza galicia in Santiago. I think it wasn't so much the food, but I really loved the owner. He was so comforting: he and his wife spoke french, so it was much easier for me to converse.

It was exactly what I needed... Perfect ending to a perfect day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 

Day 29: I came, I saw, I slept.

For the first time in the last 27 days, I finally slept through the night and was in bed until 9am. Dodo and I enjoyed talking & taking it easy in this wonderfully modern and new hotel that was in fact inside a mall.

We had our clothes WASHED and took our time (and a taxi) to the city. Had a brekkie at a lovely cafe and just the most amazing time talking & hanging out.

Its been a decadent 48 hours. :)

D is a kindred spirit. I have a feeling I won't see her again even though I'm staying in the same hotel in the city.

Mariette, John & Gen arrived a little later on Tues arvo, and I met up with them for tapas/dinner. Then M stayed with me in my modern mall hotel room (it was nice and totally worth it, really.)

Meanwhile, as I walk through Santiago, more & more of the pilgrims I see are coming in one by one. Its amazing really. I feel better than the first day I arrived and I think more emotional each day, as somehow I can be there to greet, hug, kiss the pilgrims I've met along the way & congratulate them, especially many of them who walk in alone like I did.

For instance, today, I saw the Hungarian woman who had walked so slow and had suffered so much. We had seen each other several times since then on the camino, and just a few days ago I saw her tackling a very steep downhill section in the forest. She is here on Santiago, much to my relief, & today we hugged & kissed each other on the cheek after the mass. Once again, there was this amazing unspoken connection. She is here, in one piece, and (as Kirstie from Finland mentioned at lunch today) she looks much younger. :)

I also have run into Benjamin, Luis Miguel, Brigitte, Denise, Kelly, Andi & Miklos! All within the last 24 hours.

Seeing everyone you've met in the last four weeks, those you've spoken to, and those you've only just passed and acknowledged silently, is a surreal experience. It goes beyond language and race and culture.

When I arrived, I arrived alone. Again, I don't know what I was expecting... A little parade? A fanfare? No, despite my emotional post about the camino and my final hours of walking towards Santiago, I will say it was anti-climatic, like every milestone I reached along the way.

But these last two days have made me more and more passionate. I have to say I arrived early in order to have the opportunity to be there for the pilgrims I have met and to hug and congratulate them on their arrival. There are many, and I've talked and hugged almost everyone, and it is one of the most beautiful feelings.

By Friday, I hope to see Vivian and Carol and maybe some of the pilgrims I started with in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I may miss them as tomorrow I will bus to Finisterre early in the day and
then return in the evening.

As for Santiago, I've been taking it easy in the city. I've been eating and walking to and from the Cathedral. I've been to the pilgrims mass three days in a row now, and each day it gets more & more special.

Tonight I am in a restaurant/bar in the red light district (apparently) but I think its actually a small university pub where the food is cheap and in big portions and where one can order a beer the size of my head. Its great as it feel very very local. It's nice to feel human again.

Ok, one more beer....

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 

Pilgrim Spotting

Pilgrims can be easily identified by several criteria:

1. Backpack with a scallop shell:
The most obvious sign of a peregrino is the everpresent burden they carry with a scallop shell tied to it. Pilgrims on bikes have them on the bikepacks. Some pilgrims may even wear a shell around their neck.

Further along the way to Santiago, the pack size per pilgrim diminishes, sometimes into just a waistpack This variety of peregrino are usually those who begin walking from a closer point to Santiago. Besides the lack of a backpack, their clothes and pants and boots are especially fresh.

The "fresh" pilgrims also have a tendency to want to talk and have no concept of the "veteran" pilgrim who is on day 20+ and is a bit weathered both emotionally and physically. * (see Addendum 1: Pilgrim Etiquette)

2. Zipoff pants:
Pilgrims can be spotted sans backpack or gear by the fact that their pants zip off into shorts. Zip-offs are universal, non-country or culture specific, quite often khaki.

It is 99.99% correct to guess a person wearing these is/was walking the camino.

3. Walking sticks:
These range from the sport walking sticks that are store bought (like cross-country ski poles) to the traditional sheperd's stick (with a small gourd tied to the end of it.)
Some pilgrims opt to pick up a tree branch along the camino.

Unfortunately, peregrinos have a tendency to leave their walking sticks behind, much to the profit of many small Spanish villages. **(see Addendum 2: The Pilgrim Industry)

4. Boots & hat
Not too many peregrinos walk without a good pair of boots or hat. There's the odd one who sometimes choose to walk in their back-up sandals/flipflops (see #7), but almost every pilgrim will have the worn boot and hat to complete the pilgrim uniform.

5. The Camino tan/sunburn:
Many a peregrino can be seen sporting a burnt nose and uneven arm tans.

Due to the consistent migration of pilgrims towards Santiago in the West, the peregino's left forearm may get unearthly dark.

Depending on what is worn, & how much sunscreen is applied, a pilgrim will have blotches around the neck arms and legs, & possibly a raccoon tan on the face if wearing sunglasses.

For those peregrinos of alabaster skin, these same areas (and quite often more) can be lobster red.

6. The fleece (or in Canadian, the "flee-cee")
Most pilgrims carry the fleece jacket from closer to the beginning of the route due to unexpected cold weather in the mountains.

The fleece, also doubles as a blanket in a cold albergue (of which there are many.)

7. Sandals/flip-flops ('con' sock or 'sin' sock)
Most often used post-boot in the evenings, sandals also act a a foot guard for showers.

The sandal-fleece combination is also typical of the peregrino and many wear the sandals with socks for extra blister prevention.

8. The Peregrino Limp (© John & Gen):
Pilgrims can be spotted at the end of day waddling through the streets in their sandals and fleece with slow and deliberate steps to ease the pain from blisters and aching muscles.

The Peregrino Limp is especially accentuated when stairs are involved.

When & Where to Pilgrim Spot:
Pilgrims can be seen at every small village bar or café along the camino. Within larger cities, one cannot turn a corner without spotting the zipoff pants and fleece, and/or backpack with the scallop shell tied to it.

On a busy street near a particular city attraction, a hundred pilgrims can be seen milling around with locals & other tourists.

Other high pilgrim areas include restaurants/bars near albergues, pharmacies for foot care products, the one village grocery store, and anywhere there is internet.

*Addendum 1: Pilgrim Ettiquette
At the beginning of the camino, pilgrims could simply say "buen camino", and it was acknowledged that one would move on individually. But with the fresh, or sometimes the simply annoying, obnoxious peregrinos, a veteran (being much more fit, even if not so fresh) can boost ahead. Or, sometimes the veteran alternatively stops in his/her tracks and lets the disruptive pilgrim go on.

**Addendum 2: The Pilgrim Industry
Spanish villages may possibly make a fortune off of lost walking sticks & other items left along the camino.

In the past, it was said that many items were left roadside, particularly at the beginning of the camino. (i.e. leather jackets, enough books to fill a library.)

But pilgrim equipment is surprisingly absent from the camino roadsides today, and (thankfully) clear of debris & litter of any kind. Cow dung & horse poop are the exception.

Monday, May 21, 2007 

Day 28: Ladies & Gentlemen, Lola has entered the building...

Walking the last 20km was a surreal experience. Feeling something so close, something within reach made this one of the hardest walks.

Its the same feeling I got at the end of each day as I neared my destination: you feel heavy, and ready to drop. Your mind keeps thinking "its right around the corner" but alas, you said the same thing half an hour ago.

I woke up early & tried not to disturb Dorothee (but failed miserably as I hit my pack against the wardobe door at the very last moment,) was out the door and on the road a little after 6 and enjoyed walking in the dark for the last time on the camino.

This was it, my last morning on the camino with just me, alone, as the sun would rise. I walked strangely uneven at first, my mind trying to capture the final moments of this insane journey I was about to complete.

There's this point when you walk in the day, that you are purely walking & breathing. It becomes automatic & meditative and when it kicks in, you can go for hours.

So even though the one blister (which grew sort of into 2), and the aches all were coming to the forefront physically and the questions and answers I had been sorting all along were coming up mentally - somehow, they no longer mattered. It was automatic: just walk, breathe & be.

The way into Santiago is not as grand as I think it was once before. It is written that once upon a time the cathedral towers could be seen from Monte de Gozo (translation "Mount of Joy") but the city blocks the view of the cathedral, and there's quite a bit of time spent walking through the city streets before you even near the cathedral area.

And then, the yellow arrows STOPPED. Following the pilgrims ahead of me, the signs that were there all along the way seemed to sudden disappear and the pilgrim instinct had to kick in, finely honed from endless twist and turns and forks on dirt paths.

It is scary, this faith that you have that you are going in the right direction & to walk every step with confidence. Believe it or not, somehow things always will work out.

Dodo told me that she had met this German who had parents from Afghanistan. When the war broke out, he and his mother had made it past the border but his father, who went later to cross, was stopped and told he could not cross without a passport. The border guard told him the name of a man in Pakistan and said if he gave this man this amount of money he would have a passport, & then he would be let through. The father then walked 1600km through the war-torn country, to Pakistan, found the man, gave him the amount, got the passport and walked backed the 1600km, and the border guard let him through.

Imagine, the trust one has to have in all that. To have faith he would make it 1600km, to have faith that he would find the man in Pakistan, to have faith that the money would buy the passport, to have faith that the border guard was not lying and would actually let him through.

When you walk a journey like the camino, there is a faith. There's a strange trust in this invisible pilgrim protection. No one (usually) steals from you, if you are in need of help, strangers will come to your aid, if you lose something along the way you probably didn't need it, & if you did need it, it would come back to you. Although there are unfortunately some bad experiences, this shield is ever-present as is most often, your faith in it.

After reaching the cathedral, & then receiving my 'compostela' from the Pilgrims office, I truly was no longer a pilgrim. I had the clothes of a pilgrim, the pack with it, but there was finality to it all. You are different in the crowds around you as you sort of melt from the pilgrim
self and pilgrim world to re-emerge into civilization.

I am thankful to be done, grateful to have made it one piece, and looking forward to seeing the friends and many faces along the way as they enter Santiago.

I still have the feeling of that "automatic" mode. The ability to walk every step with confidence, to breathe and just be. Its a feeling I hope to have forever.

And the best part, as Remo often reminds me, my true camino is just beginning.

Sunday, May 20, 2007 

Day 27: One day more

I don't want to walk anymore. So in order to stop the madness, I went 35km today from Melide to Arca, which means I will be in Santiago by tomorrow morning.

Right around all of you are going to bed before Victoria Day, I will have reached the end of 776 km.

I kept singing the song "One Day More" from Les Miserables, which kept me at a pretty good pace. Most of the words fit: 'One day more, another day, another destiny... this never ending road to calvary...' I can't even begin to write everything I need to now, but I promise tomorrow I will try.

Tonight I am with Dorthee (nickname: Dodo) from Germany who took one look at the full and dirty albergue here in Arca and had to walk away.

I, too, wanted to sleep in comfort before my last day of walking so I left my pack and RAN from pension to pension to look for a place not full & to share a room with her.

I can't really believe I was running after 35km, but without my pack on I was doing pretty damn good.

Dodo, like Benjamin ("Ben-ha-meen!" - again: remember Javier from 'Felicity'? Anyone? Anyone?) & Luis Miguel, now calls me a machine, too.

Remember to think of me before you go to bed tonight... I promise a bigger post tomorrow, but its late and Dodo needs to fait dodo (the Frenchies will get that...)

Big day mañana. Big day.

Saturday, May 19, 2007 

Day 26: "I have a date with an octopus."

Believe it or not I said this to a older German man as I passed him today. [ I later found out his name was Heinz.] He must have enjoyed it as he guffawed once he deciphered my words & probably thought I was crazy as I sped my way past him at Mariette-speed to Melide.

I was originally was only going to walk 25km today & stop at Palais de Rei. I got there fairly early (like 11:30am) had a coffee & thought: "I want to get to Melide! I want pulpo!"

So once again, I ended up doing another 40km.

Tell me *that's* not worth it??

If I push I will be in Santiago in two days. However, if I take it easy, I can still arrive in the morning at Santiago on the 23rd, meaning I can have two and a bit days in Santiago, the rest of the 23rd, one night in Finisterre, the 24th, the 25th & leave for London the 26th.

I'm hoping to slow down. I don't want to walk anymore, but the little 15-19kms a day will be easier, I think.

In any case the 40km to Melide was worth it: The octopus was FANTASTIC. Went to what seems to be the most popular place, the 'Pulperia Ezequiel', where you sit on long wooden benches to eat a heaping plate of octopus, sprinkled with spanish paprika & drizzled in olive oil, & drinking cloudy Ribeiro wine out of a ceramic cup! It is SO fresh...

I was the first one in the door [ at the Pulpería] just before 7pm. But by the time I left, about 8pm, the place was jammed with pilgrms, tourists & Spaniards for Saturday night. I especially loved hearing the owner snip snip snipping away all the octopus as more people started to swarm in.

Then on the way back to the hostal, (I splurged again, because I wanted to relax after the 40km), who did I see but John & Gen, the Aussies from way back in Viana!

On the camino, its easy to meet people everyday & quite often you run into the same crowd along the way. But being so transient, and sometimes one goes further, etc., one can feel quite lonely and a bit tired of the meet & greets.

So when you run into someone from long ago, its like running in the great old friends. And sometimes you may not have even shared more than a few words with them, but the recognition alone is there...

Just the other night, at Ohhhh Cebreiro, I finally had introductions with a German woman who had sprayed antisceptic on my deep knee wound way back in Redecilla. I was walking up that steep climb earlier that day, and suddenly her & her friend were next to me and we erupted into this scream of joy! This seems to happen a lot, at least for me, this recognition & some comfort in a familiar face. And that night at the top overlooking the incredible view, Brigette (this German woman) and I hugged, and introduced ourselves for the first time!

Had a glass of wine with John & Gen as they finished their supper, and gave them M's and my cell numbers so that hopefully we can all meet up in Santiago for dinner next week.

Only 50kms left, people... 50kms to go!

Friday, May 18, 2007 

Day 25: A room with a view.

Sunrise on the way to Sarria

Early out of the monastery & took the highway to Sarria instead of the camino route. (According to the bartender where I had the nightcap with Luis Miguel and Benjamin, it was a difference of 3 km.)

In Galicia, they have each km marked with a cement block marker, ticking the distance off as you near Santiago.

I was quite excited as I would no doubt cross the 100km mark today so I walked pretty hard and determined.

In the last km before the 100th marker, I thought about everything: the stuff I had done, had been, wanted to be, who I am... I had been thinking so much before about EVERYTHING, but today, many these things flashed before me as I walked towards it.

Once again, the 100km marker itself wasn't really anything huge. Not that I was expecting some kind of fanfare, but considering its the last 100km that you are 'expected' to do, I thought there would be more of a monument or some kind of gateway. I was expecting something bigger, you know?

I got this couple to take my picture & me the same for them. And then I congratulated them on making the 100km mark with gusto!

Then somehow my adrenaline kicked in, & I booted it to Portomarin.

Stopped in one of the many the private albergues; with the BEST view of the water... Totally felt like lake area at home. *sigh*

Luis Miguel & Benjamin strolled in at almost 5:30pm & we immediately made some noise on the main street. We had a beer, before they went on to the albergue municipal, and promised to meet for wine later on that evening.

Then, as I was just finishing my beer alone, I met Sven, one half of a couple whom I've seen
on the road the last few days. He has been travelling with Julie (prounounced 'hoo-lee', possibly spelled Ullie?) and they are both from Germany.

Turns out, they just met 2 weeks ago, but looking at them walking & seeing them along the way, I would have presumed they has been together for a long time!

The camino romance is a VERY deceptive one. More on that later...

Anywhoo had dinner with the MOST awesome view, high above the water in Portomatin. It was a good day.

It was funny I was in bed already as were the many other Germans in my bunk room (it was 8:30pm, for goodness sake) & Luis Miguel comes into the albergue, *into room*, to find me!

It was nice: the three of us went for one more wine and now its REALLY late (like 11:30pm)...

By the way, I wasn't thinking, but a better choice would have been top bunk as the high window overlooks that gorgeous harbour-esque view. Still, I'm glad I didn't have to climb in at this hour!

More later! Must sleep!


Day 24: REALLY roughing it.

I had to make a poo outside today. Blechhhh.

Remember how I told you the toilets were holes in Ooooohhh Cebriero? well, I couldn't go... & then I thought that the next town (Liñares) may have a bar open... Nope.

Had to go. But I think next time I should be more careful choosing a spot. I thought I was pretty much alone (it was maybe just before 7am) so I tried to find a place hidden from the windows of the casa nearby, but just as I was finishing, two pilgrims walked by. Oy.

Anywhoo, the walk from from Oooohhh Cebreiro to Triacastela was fine. The decision to walk to Samos was a bit tough, but I decided to do the extra 10 via the more scenic route. This path was extrordinary! Such lush greens: it was like walking through a fairytale lane... You know the kind with vines & ferns & little fluffs straight out of 'Legend' the movie. Half expected a unicorn or Tom Cruise (one can NEVER escape Tom Cruise) to jump out of the bushes.

Well, almost 3hrs later, I was kind of sick of walking, even though I was trying hard to keep myself enchanted with the scenery. I think if Tom Cruise had jumped out I could have harnessed is ever-present running mode and had him carry me to Samos. But alas, I kept passing hamlet after hamlet, hoping, WISHING that I was finally there, but it took FOREVER..

Made it to Samos, and found the Monasterio de Samos, an albergue ran by the Monks (I think). Was the first let in which was nice as I had first choice of bed.

Monasterio de Samos
(There are 2 routes to Sarria: the scenic but longer route via Samos
and the other considerably shorter but steeper route via San Xil.)

I met up with Benjamin (spanish pronounced "ben-ha-meen" - 'Felicity', anyone?) & Luis Miguel from Avila (a few kms outside of Madrid?); I've been bumping into them along the way the last few days, & before our official intros today, they knew me as the chica canadiense fuerte (sp?). They are very cute, & VERY spanish. They take their time walking every day, & quite often pass me, but because they walk so slow and stop frequently, I often pass them again when they are taking their break.

Luis-Miguel knows almost no English, while Benjamin can speak as much English as I can speak Spanish. Luis Miguel asked me what do I eat that makes me walk with such force... Ha ha... They took their time getting to Samos. There were several beautiful clear streams & I really wanted to dip in. They said they had [gone swimming] but the water was really, really cold.

Its been really nice through this part of Galicia. Its very pretty and the views are astounding. I know I should take my time now, but there is this part of me that JUST WANTS THIS DONE!

Had a quiet dinner to myself before meeting up with Benjamin & Luis Miguel for one more drink before bed. I seem to fall asleep so quickly after dinner (this also may be attributed to the wine quota I keep meeting) that I am sleeping much better through the night. Benjamin said I snored at Ohhhh Cebreiro... Which probably was true with the amount I had consumed.

I'm in bed by 8, and passed out again... Its good, I sleep a lot better now. :)

Thursday, May 17, 2007 

Day 23: Ohhhhhhh Cebreiro!

Something happened to my post from yesterday... I'm not sure what happened but I also lost the list of people/pilgrims I have met along the way. Grrr...

In any case, yesterday I went up to the highest point: O Cebreiro... And I kept thinking that people must add O! to the Cebreiro (as in 'Ohhhhhh! Cebreiro') because its a tough hike - up, up, up about 900m in altitude within 11km. That's enough to illicit an "O!"

Juse before Ohhhh! Cebreiro

Along the way, the region changes from León to Galicia, and the atmosphere becomes very Celtic. As I arrived in O (Ohhhh!) Cebreiro bagpipes were blaring out of the local shop, which was laden with Celtic knots and silly fake pilgrim walking sticks, crappy tee shirts, and just about anything useless covered with or in the shape of a scallop shell. It was nice small village but totally built for tourists. The sheer number of German tourists that streamed from the bus and were photographing the view was overwhelming to say the least.

In my guidebook, the albergue at Ohhhhh! Cebreiro is described as modern with 80 beds a kitchen, etc. Since Cardeñuela & Rabe, I have learned not to take my book as 100% accurate. Turns out the albergue was in shacks (like the ones schools use as extensions or the metal sheds they use up North in Canada) and the facilities (showers & hole in the floor toilets) were less than desirable. The hospitaleras were leaving for lunch just as I arrived, so it was an hour & a half later before me and several others were even registered.

I attempted to look around for a hostal as an alternative and it was BRUTAL: 43 euros was the lowest for two persons (not even a single room)... Because I had splurged on a beautiful hostal the night before, I decided to go back to roughing it. Again, I am a pilgrim and I am grateful for the bed, a shower and a place to hang my clothes. There can be no choosy stuff as a peregrina.

Well... I have realized I am quite a clumsy girl. I fell for the FIFTH time on this trip, but this time IN THE BAR. Down I went, along with a (thankfully empty) wine glass & a bowl of peanut shells - everything smashed to bits on the floor. I cut my left knee exactly where the old wound had healed. Argh! And I had *just* given away my betadine and bandages to blister ridden Jean-Pierre from France maybe just an hour before.

The barman on duty went to fetch some help, & two very nice women (one who seemed to work at every place in town) cleaned the wound and bandaged it up for me. It'll heal - it wasn't deep like my right knee, just embarrassing because I'm starting to think I have a strange difficulty with my legs on occasion.

Later, I had way too much wine, which became obvious after I got into bed to write some more, and promptly passed out. Woke up at 1am and realized my stuff was all disorganized & so I started trying to put stuff together as quietly as I could. I have to say I slept pretty deeply, as I didn't hear a thing while I had slept and I wasn't even wearing my earphones.

Fortunately, no hangover symptoms and was out the door today by 6:30am. Very lucky, considering I was staying in a cold shack albergue with holes for toilets. (Come on people, you have a shack with showers and running water - why not just one toilet??)

Be sure to stop in Vega de Valcarce at this Panaderia Artesana:
I had the best empanada and orange juice here after walking
about 16km on the highway from Villafranca del Bierzo.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 

Day 22: Glass half empty or full: as long as its vino, its ok

I have to say today was one of the most beautiful sights to walk through: vineyards! Rows upon rows of baby vines and upon every hill as far as the eye can see.

See that house there? That's going to be mine.

I started ok, albeit a little slower. Made to Ponferrada by about 7:30am & had a bit of breakfast next to the Templar Castle. Unfortunately everything was closed (it was only 7:30am when I arrived) & it seemed that everything was under construction, so I didn't really get to explore. Still it was a great site to see. Its quite big and the history of it is something I will have to explore another day.

Bumped into Mariette at Cacabelos, where the village had a parade for San Isador (I think its the patron saint of Madrid) in celebration and homage for a good harvest. It was good to see her (Mariette, that is, San Isadore was a bonus, hee hee) - although I kept moving on. As much as I love her, I wish for her to have her own camino.

I started to fade pretty quickly between 1 & 2pm; today seemed tougher somehow.

Been thinking about how fast I've had to get through all these places. My camino has not been like others, although I am TRUELY grateful for what I have had & that I've made it this far. I've decided that perhaps someday there will be a trip with mum to all these sights I've missed, only tourist style next time.

Also, last night I had met Irene from Vancouver, who had done the last section into Santiago in 2003, and was here to do a short section from Astorga to wherever in about 7 days. She suggested the short hikes around Monserrat. She even stayed at the monastery run by monks there, but in a cold 3? story building by herself...

Irene can't BELIEVE the amount of people on the camino this time around. I have to say I was shocked myself when I took the bus with 20 people to Bayonne, & then another 20 at least on the train to St Jean Pied de Port. The camino isn't as solitary as one would expect. Still, I have the mornings to myself, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to walk alone.

Tonight I splurged on a single room at a hostal for myself. The albergue "Ave Fenix" was the ONLY one open in town, & apparently there is a rule that no one is allowed up before 7am. [The guidebook also states that the albergue has dorm rooms separate for 50+ year olds. I dunno, it felt like too many rules...]

I think I needed some time alone, away from pilgrim life... a bit more privacy.

Monday, May 14, 2007 

Day 21: The Fog in Foncebadón

Well, today I decided to go the extra mile (literally, ha) and walk 38km from Santa Catalina de Somoza to Molinaseca. I should have stopped in pretty El Acebo [the albergue above the bar, and the food looked fantastic] like the rest but I felt like I wanted to move forward that extra little bit.

I started early: woke up at 5:30am (once again i couldn't sleep) & was out the door by 6 am. Walking in the dark is a fairly good motivator and by studying the road the day before, I was fairly confident in the direction I was going. Unfortunately, today was one of wind and cold and rain - not so bad as the one on the 1st of May, but enough drizzling to keep the waterproof stuff on for the whole day.

Moving into la Cordillera Cantábrica the flats of the meseta end, and it was up, up, up towards the famous eerie Foncebadón (read Shirley Maclaine or Paulo Cohelo.) I had originally planned to stay there, but the distance was too short [for what I had walked so far]. It was miserable both in weather & in my experience at the local bar; a horrible bus load of camino tourists - the kind that gets driven from point to point while a van takes their luggage/backpacks, & they walk a small amount to the point of interest. By the time I finished my café con leche in the bar, all I wanted to do was move on.

I had a moment at the Cruz de Ferro, the place where the pilgrim ritual is to deposit a stone from home or along the way at the base. Some have notes, some leave charms or little Elvises even (Remo - you have a good picture of this!). After a good couple of hours walking uphill, I saw the cross & broke down in sobs; it was an important moment to me as I dropped off the rocks I carried from home. Its not the most extravagant looking monument, but the symbolism and ritual are not lost...

After this I booted it down hill for the next 4 hours all the way into Molinaseca. Got in pretty late, so washing clothes in the machine was a risk. Everthing smells super nice, but NOTHING is dry. Oh well...

uh oh, 10:43pm now. No wonder the snoring is in full force. Sigh. Ipod time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007 

Typical day on the camino

Staying in an albergue, most often you will be roused by a number of others rustling & packing at roughly 6 am. Sometimes, if you are the soul who wakes up in the dark first, you try your darndest to pack blindly, turning on an annoyingly bright flashlight, or you get the honour of rustling first. (Thankfully having practiced packing, I have most things in their place before I go to bed, so it's just feeling around.)

(Albergue in Roncesvalles; Photo from: Lee Nelson's Camino photos)

Once the chorus of snoring slowly cross fades into plastic bag stuffing, someone generally turns on the light and the rustling crescendoes.

There are a few individuals who sleep through this (or attempt to by cocooning themselves in their sleeping bag) but the majority of pilgrims are up & busy with their morning routine in a matter of minutes.

Some choose to eat breakfast before they start. Most will have purchased some bread & cheese, perhaps fruit, & especially coffee. Usually, no shops are open until 10am (on a good day you can find a bar open for coffee & breakfast at 7 or 8) so many buy rations before the shops close to ensure a few items para el desayuno...

I tend to hit the road as soon as I've packed and brushed my teeth. Lately, this is around 6:30am, & it is still dark out. I have trouble sleeping through the night & tend to lie in bed until about 5:30am, but I think I might start taking advantage of leaving earlier, & just go.

Its lovely time of day, & as long as your paying attention you will find the yellow arrows guiding you on the way out of wherever you are. The danger in walking in the dark is getting lost, but most of the time its fairly easy to find the end of town.

For me, if I can consistently walk until the first stop, I can clear 15-17km without problems, as the sun isn't up and I am ready to go, @ almost 4 km/hr.

If there is a cafe open within the first 3 hours, it's a plus; a quick café cortado, & if available, a pastry (like a croissant) will do the trick for the next leg. If not, I usually have a day old self-made bocadillio (con jamon serrano y queso) that I keep for emergencies. If I can grab an apple at the mercado the day before, or a juice box for vitamin c, I usually take it at the 3 hour break. But most of the time I don't really eat along the way, but don't do as often as I should.

This probably is the reason that I am almost half my pace after hour 5. Things begin to hurt (though less now in the feet, as I think every nerve is dead in both.) As much as the morning is clear and I move with vigor, the next stretch is purely psychological.

Between hour 4 & 5 my brain starts computing the distance I've walked, the distance I still want to cover, how many days its been, how long left to Santiago. I think about how nice it would be to just stop walking, or what it would be like to eat a tub of popcorn at the drive-in. I think about the txts and great msgs I have read the night before, and try desperately to detract my mind from my feet and automatic steps. I think about the things I want to be doing & what I should be doing, and what will be the next step. I think about people at home, about dedicating the day to someone, & also thinking about the people I've met so far.

I even try to stop thinking sometimes during long stretches and meditate by focusing on a point in the distance. "Breathe in peace, breathe out I smile," (thank you, Indira!) or sometimes I just focus on my breath.

Depending on the day, I have usually cleared between 25km by noon. Which means, if its a place to stop, then I look for an albergue. But noon is VERY early, and going for that extra 8km is always looming. Certain things (like Mariette) can keep me going, but on my own, 27km @ noon means I can stop if I want to. 38km by 2 or 3 pm is even better, but there are days that you just want to stop.

Once a pilgrim stops for the day, the routine usually consists of greeting the hospitalero or albergue receptionist (sometimes it's at the local bar), getting one's credencial stamped with the establishment's sello, and paying for a bed. Most often placing ones "botas" (boots) at the door (cause damn, they're stinky) is a rule, and then selecting a bed.

If you're at an albergue between 1 & 2pm, you're likely to get a bottom bunk. Anytime past 3 (& depending on how big the stop is) and the albergue municipal can be fairly full.

If your feeling a bit more luxurious, you may consider staying @ a albergue privado, hostal or a pension which can cost double what you pay at an albergue. Some albergues are better than others, and some are even para donativo (by donation), which is a lifesaver for those short of cash. Cleanliness & bed comfort varies from place to place, bigger towns often have bigger or more albergues, but its a luck of the draw with quality, and even a private room in a hostel or a hotel (the most expensive option) can be less than satisfactory.

Once you've picked a bunk, more often than not, one unpacks the towel & soap for a shower, and then does laundry. Most pilgrims take advantage of the sunlight to dry clothes... Plus its just easier to do everything earlier, garnering a bit of journaling time, or time enough to have a quick siesta in the sun (if available.)

(Pilgrims can get very creative with drying their laundry. Photo from M&M's gallery.)

If you roll in around 3pm, you can probably time it out to finish showering, washing & hanging your clothes, and doing foot care (its all about foot inspection with the pilgrims) before taking a "limping" tour of the village.

On a good day, (& especially not on a Sunday) you can find a mercado or a small tienda with stuff you can buy - either for the next day or for dinner. Most shops open after siesta at about 4:30-5pm until 8pm. In an albergue wth a kitchen many pilgrims shop and then will cook, & sometimes it becomes a potluckwith wine and more than enough for everyone.

Other pilgrims will take advantage of the Menu del Peregrino, which usually consists of la plato primero (most often spaghetti or salad or white aparagus or soup) & la segundo (some kind of meat and a few fries, fish and fries, tortilla - which is an omlette) and una postre (dessert which can be fruit, yogurt, flan, or helado - ice cream.)

The menu del peregrino usually comes with vino or agua, and can cost between 7 - 10 euros depending where you are. If your lucky you may get something different, but its a very similar menu del peregrino across the camino, and its only the preparation of these that makes the difference. Its not too bad, as it is the main meal of the day, and because its not served usually until 7 or 8pm, pilgrims roll into bed immediately after.

Again, depending on where you are, dinner (& just before it, when all the hungry pilgrims are waiting) is probably the most communal time of the day. Talking with familiar faces from the road, or sharing stories with new friends that you've seen for the last 3 days is a treat.

Once you've had la cena, most pilgrims brush teeth & head to bed. Many are in bed before 9:30pm. If you've happened to have a late dinner, you have to make sure you get back to the albergue before curfew @ 10:00pm, & quite often the lights are usually out by then.

If you are early, and have a good set of earplugs, you're on your way to a good several hours of sleep. If your late, and don't have earplugs, God bless you, as the snorers will be in full strength by the time you tiptoe into your sleeping bag.

If you are smart, you will have collected your washing before dinner and laid out everything for bedtime so it's an easy slip into the dark, snoring room. If your a light sleeper like me, you'll be up easily at 5:30am and ready to go with all your stuff.

And so you fall asleep with food and wine in your belly, and your wonder earplugs (in my case, the best in-ear earphones with my ipod) until that early morning rustling begins and the day of a peregrino starts again.

And that, my friends, is a typical day (for me at least) on the camino.


Day 20: The wind NOT at my back

Today was the most insanely windy day: I left Hospital de Óribgo at about 6:15 am & the wind blew & blew & blew.

I landed at Santa de Catalina de Somoza after breezing through Astorga; I had hoped to see more of Astorga (aka the chocolate museum) but, of course, being 10am on a Sunday absolutely nothing was open. So, I kept walking.

Gaudi's Palacio Episcopal in Astorga

I should have kept going, but the plan was to spend one night at the famous Foncebadon & see the Cruz de Ferro at sunrise. I realize now that's just too short for a day, as was today, so I might just leave at 5am and try to see it early tomorrow.

Its always strange to quit before 1pm, even if you travel far as it always seems you can do just a little more.

Tonight, I had dinner with Denise from France, dear Monique from Holland and Marianne from Germany (the latter 2 whom I had dinner with at the Indian restaurant in Leon. Again it was like seeing old friends. I love Marianne; Even though we both don't speak more than a few words of each others language - somehow we totally understand each other completely despite it.

Up early for an uphill walk! Gutten Nacht!

Saturday, May 12, 2007 

Day 19: A day off may be hazardous to your walking

Today, I got my first official blister.

(I had one about to happen on my right foot, but the rain day and a bit of foamy prevention contained that one.)

You'd think that after a day of rest, one would be refreshed and raring to go.

Today, however, was a strangely hard walk. The bottom half of my shin has hurt (I think from walking on the pavement or possibly from tripping a lot) and I guess I may have been walking very heavily today as 31km just seemed to take forever.

Maybe it was because I had stayed up almost until 11:45 pm last night; maybe the 2 big pints of beer and a shot at the end in the delectable Indian restaurant; maybe because once again I couldn't sleep; maybe it was because I knew I wouldn't see Mariette tonight; my feet hurt again, & my energy was HORRIBLE for the last two hours.

Still, I am now in Hospital de Óribgo, a nice little town with this amazing bridge & an amazing history about Don Suero de Quiñones. The albergue is VERY nice (Albergue San Miguel) & it seems the town is wired into Enya/Deleirum/Titanic/The Mission/The Piano soundtrack over the speakers in every establishment I've been in. Its funny, yet uncannily "tranquillo."

Just finished a menu del peregrino & I am ready for bed real soon.

No sign of friends today, but I'm taking advantage of the time alone.
Still, it is a little lonely.

Lots of wine. Must sleep it off soon...

Hasta mañana.

Hospital de Óribgo


Day 18: And then, Lola rested

I forgot to mention, that day 17 I walked another 38km to Leon. I promised that I would pamper myself if I made the 38km by finding a hotel.

Well, I made it & instead of spending it in another albergue I decided to take a hostal instead. M (who now refers to herself as my camino mother) joined me and we had some comfortable beds a private bathroom with hot water... you have NO idea how this is pure luxury.

In León, we went to an Indian restaurant [Restaurante Tajmahal] & had the best food. It was amazing. We went both nights because just having anything other than the menu del peregrino was very welcome.

Tonight was even more "International" as we had 5 Canadians (SK, QC, ON, & MB), 3 Germans, & of course M from Holland at the table.

It's super late now (I'm totally not on albergue time, so its past 11pm already!) as I write this, so I'm keeping it short...

I'm really glad I took the day off in León. I felt more human again, & it was really fun hanging out with Mariette.

It was fantastic... a great night.

I have a feeling that M & I will part ways tonight, but I know we will keep in touch.

Good night, more stories tomorrow!


Day 16 & 17: 30km is the new 20km

Clocked in 32 kms today to El Burgo Ranero, which is a bit just past Sahagún & about 38 km to Léon.

Things started very well today; did the first 13km by 9:30am which meant I could clear the next 20 before it got too hot after 1pm.

Made it into a nice albergue (Albergue Peregrinos, Domenico Laffi) just about a half hour after Mariette.

I am humbled today by the story of a Hungarian women that I walked past early on today... maybe around 12ish. She was walking on the pavement very slowly, hunched over by the weight of her pack (more hunched than the usual peregrino) & taking steps one at a time with every breath (like I did the first day.) She arrived very late at our albergue, maybe some 5 hours later & found that the Dutch women who had reserved a bottom bunk for her had it given away.

There were two girls sitting outside: Kirsti from Finland, (who when we met said, "Canada and Finland are always easy friends!") and this girl from Holland (originally from Iran, who wore this giant St. Christopher's medal, more about her later) who saw that this Hungarian woman was in anguish; Dutch/Iran girl said [she could see] the suffering in the old woman's face as she turned away from the albergue to find a room at the other hostals...

The two girls went after her to help her; they offered her some food as they noticed this woman would eat half an apple & put it away for later. The woman was SO grateful, again with such emotional expression in her face, that the girls could only hug her, and console her weary body & soul.

From talking through, we all believe that this woman is walking for religious reasons & willingly suffers through her pain on the way to Santiago.

Mariette also told me the story of this Dutch girl from Iran, named Amena (sp?), has also had suffered from very painful foot problems.

Her shoes apparently were completely bad for her feet & her feet were completely wrecked. [Along the camino] woman stopped her & asked her if she could help.

Neither of them were able to speak each other's language, but between the two of them they managed to communicate that Amena was in pain from walking...

This woman ordered a taxi, took Amena to have something to eat and then to the hospital to see the doctor. The doctor examined her and confirmed Amena could continue on the camino after at least a day of rest. The lady then booked a hotel room for her, and said she would meet her for dinner at 7pm.

A very grateful Amena was told by the woman "I have no children, so if I can help one person, it would be my duty..."

Apparently, while waiting at the hospital, the woman had asked if Amena's socks & shoes were alright. Amena said "I
have dry socks in my backpack & I don't know about my shoes..." sincerely and thought nothing of it.

Well, at 7pm, Amena gets a knock on her door from the front desk, & waiting for her is a box with a brand new pair of Nikes in her size.

Believe it or not, Amena has not seen this woman again since then.

There are so many people on this camino having completely different experiences. I can't explain how crazy it is.

And it is all so humbling. Here I'm complaining that I'm down to my last euro, when I know I am healthy and will be able to take refuge (with a credit card if I have to) & then I hear these stories about the pilgrims who deserve help.

I am grateful for the gifts I received, for the distance I've walked without injury & for being loved. I am grateful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 

Day 15: "It's a long way to the prairie..."

For the first little while I thought M was saying "It's a long way to the prairie..."
until one day I realized she was saying "It's a long way to Tipperary..."

That's what I get for being a prairie girl.

Several of us got up extra early today (5:40am) to avoid the sun later in the day.

I walked behind three steps to Mariette's two for about 23km and after our lunch break, I had to flip back to my own pace for the last 9km.

M walks about 6km/hr consistenly. She compensated for me, which meant we were doing 5 or 5.5 km/hr. for the first leg today. (I think I can do 4km/hr on my own except when I
get to the end of my day.) But today we went far again, & so I guess I'm doing ok.

[The wound on] my right knee keeps breaking, so it's still not completely healed. It was scabbing over, but walking makes irritated I think.

Today we are in Terradillos de Templarios, I'm down to my last 20 euros, which means I have enough for maybe one night, two if I miss dinner tomorrow.

I met Henning from Germany at the albergue... He lit his cigarettes by focusing the sunlight through his coke bottle glasses. He seems a bit lonely, & u can tell like the rest the Camino is emotional for him with every step.

I'm sure it is with everyone, but with Henning, it was on his sleeve when he talked with me.

Long day again tomorrow...


Day 14: It pays to walk a little, or a LOT further...

Today the plan was to walk a leisurely 25 km from Castrojeriz to Frómista & find a hotel so that I can use my visa to pay & save on the little cash I have left for food.

I started very early from the albergue, about 6:30am, with pretty much nothing in my stomach (no dinner last night, & no brekkie.) Cheryl, the sweet Aussie also kisses me on both cheeks & and wishes me "Buen camino, you beautiful, beautiful girl." I can't tell you how emotional these little blessings are. They are so unexpected and beautiful, and they reverberate in my mind as I walk in the morning.

It was a steep walk up to the Alto de Mostelares and then a very easy walk through the next few villages. I didn't stop except at a fountain to refill water, and was making my slow "end" trudge just outside Frómista. Usually the last hour I plug into my iPod, & my pace is half that of when I start.

About a few minutes in, there are 2 people behind me, I turn around and who is it but Mariette (one of the M&Ms!) and a Belgian fellow. Turns out, Marlou is injured & had to take the bus from Burgos to Léon & would stay to wait for Mariette. But just as Mariette was calling my name, Marlou called to say she will have to go home & would take the train tomorrow night from León.

When Mariette caught up with me, I was estatic. I knew I would see M&M again! My step picked up immediately & I went as fast as I start in the morning. Mariette has pushed me to complete 38km (she says it was 40) today!!! Which means I am ahead again by maybe a day & a half now!

But, alas, I am sad for Marlou, as she will not finish her journey yet.

We'll see what tomorrow brings...

Sunday, May 6, 2007 

Day 13: And then, Heaven decided to gift me today....

Today, I met the a woman who was 105 years old (104 turning 105 on Aug 27.) This woman lost her mother at the age of 5 [which means this year is the 100th anniversary of her mother's death.] She was visiting the Convento de San Anton which is just outside Castrojeriz, where I am staying at a very special albergue.

I began from Rabé de la Calzadas today in a bit of a rush. Michelle sent me off with a kiss and a Buen Camino. It was hard to tell if she actually liked me all evening, but I think somehow she wouldn't have kissed my cheek if she thought I was that dirty or gross.

Anyhow, I booted through Hornillos del Camino & missed Arroyo San Bol where pilgrims who was their feet are said to have no foot problems from here to Santiago.

Made it to Castrojeriz by about 1:30 pm, but not in time to get into the Dutch-run hostal, so I ended up walking to the albergue by Julian Campo y José Manzano... I was greeted by the sweetest angel, Isabella, who works 1 week every year at this albergue. She had known Julian & José and had met one of them when he was volunteering in Calcutta... These 2 friends were very inspirational, doing work in Calcutta & Ethiopia, and tragically they had died on a train crash. The albergue is continually run by their family and volunteers and is by donation only.

I am already running out of cash & here was this albergue, where this sweet woman carries my backpack into the dorm for me. When I tell her its too heavy for her, she simply says: "Its too heavy for YOU."

I ask if there is a church nearby and she says that she has been calling to see if there is mass in the church as another pilgrim has asked. Later she tells me that there was a mass (it was at 8:30am) but that the priest has agreed to let us take Communion later.

So Isabella drives four of us pilgrims to the Convent that we had passed on the way into Castrojeriz: Daniella, the doctor from Germany (who was asked to & willingly treated several of the injured pilgrims in the afternoon), Cheryl, a cheerful Aussie who was equally sweet and friendly immediately, Kordie also from Germany, (short for Miseracordia... Her name though Kor is attributed to "Heart", la corte, corazon...), & me.

We got to mass, and I of course broke down and cried when the convent, the sisters that are all behind bars and are never meant to leave, sang the hymns. Then, Kordie hugs me and whispers in my ear: "It is the spirit of the camino."

We take Communion, and then after mass, dear Isabella asks if its ok if she goes to buy some stuff from the convent. The Monasterio de Santa Clara is a convent that stays within this place. To buy pastries or items you have this lazy-susan that turns so you put your money on it, they turn it and you get your box of pastries or Crucifix, etc.

Well, Isabella says she would also like to say goodbye to the sisters and the mother of one of the nuns staying in the convent, so we go upstairs, and we are greeted by Sister Maria-Jesus, a very young looking nun, in a room from a window with bars.

After a few moments speaking with S. Maria-Jesus, who plays the sitar (she explained that in fact its origins are from Germany & that the instrument is even referenced in the Bible), then Mother Superior wheeled in the mother of one of the Sisters who was staying with them.
This was the sweet lady who was over 100 years old.

When asked what her secret was, we were told: "She has one glass of wine with sugar & water everyday. And she drinks only black coffee. No milk." This lady and the two Sisters talked with us for almost an hour. They gave us each a postcard, & cookies and a sweet liqueur to drink out of small glasses.

Because I cried so much during mass, I held back the tears during this very privileged & surreal session.

We were driven back to the albergue by Isabella (who was back to Madrid tonight).

Later on in the evening, I talked a while with Finley, a pretty artist from L.A. She is into abstract patterns and most recently been decorating dumpsters with wallpaper. I told her that woostercollective.com is one of my fav sites, & that I love street art - that draws attention to objects, like this particular guy in the midwest who paints abandoned houses bright neon safety orange... She says that's her friend Christian from Detroit!

Finally, as I write this, an English gentleman says he was at a nearby bar with Miklos (my Hungarian friend) who was speaking about me. Turns out, Miklos is a grandpa today with a new grandson, Andreas! I can't wait to give him the biggest hug tomorrow.

One more thing: the Bach oratorio I sang with the CMBC is blasting from the stereo. Kordie says this is one of her favorites & she has the same CD at home. [She also mentioned it was odd to hear it in the summer, as it's quite often sung at Christmas. We played it on rotate until very late at night.]

I couldn't even eat tonight. I am full with something else, and I'm quite happy.


Day 11 & 12: The Opposite Sides of Hell

Started early from Villafranca even though I think I had WAY too much wine the prev. day. Happily arrived 21kms later at Cardeñuela at 12:30pm where I met Miklos from Hungary.

Miklos at the 518km mark!

Because it was very early, Miklos & I sat at the bar to wait for the albergue to open. Met Antonio who was finishing his first half in Burgos & then on his way home to Portugal. He was a sweet guy, and told us the lesson he learned on this part of his camino was to carry less weight next time. Hee.

After about 2 hours, Petra, sweet German lady [I had met back at Villamayor de Monjardin], arrived and sat with us at the bar... When finally the barkeeper (who smoked like a chimney and had a bandaid on his nose) gave us the keys, we paid 3 euros each, received the 'sello' (stamp) in our credencials, and then trudged our way to the albergue.

(If you see this cartoon, even if it IS in the German guide book, MOVE ON! The albergue in town is not worth it.)

I had already wanted to move on. I thought perhaps if I should go a bit further it would be good as it was so early during the day. If I had seen this poor looking albergue earlier, I would have most definitely walked the extra 8kms or so. But, as it was already to late to move on & it was cheap, I took it.

Tried to wait in the bar for dinner, writing, studying my guide book. Its hard to get away from other pilgrims anywhere on the camino. But here it was especially difficult as there were only 2 places to hang out, the albergue & the bar.

Petra had started to get me paranoid about finishing on time. She, too, has a flight out of Santiago on the 26th and thought maybe she would take a bus from Fromista to León so she would have enough time to experience Finisterre. So I began to obsess about figuring out how much, how long & what was possible.

By dinnertime came and the 5 other pilgrims in town strolled into the bar, I was feeling fairly ill. I could barely stomach the food that the semi-toothless señora was serving; I tried to eat as much as I could but felt nauseous. Because we had started the wine already (pilgrims' menus usually allow only agua or vino, not the both), when I asked for water as well, snagglepuss lady basically yelled at us and then filled a glass of tap water and plopped it in front of Miklos with exasperation.

I was ILL. I thought that I might even have a fever. So I took a tylenol 500 & went to bed almost right away.

Next morning, I took my time getting up and left Cardeñuela at 7:30am. Got to Burgos, and promptly got lost. Wandered past the catherdral (which was beautiful), was able to pray, got some coffee... Then, I got lost again. I thought "Lost In Burgos" would make a good title for something.

Finally found my way out and made good time to Rabé de las Calzadas, where I was hoping to stay at the lovely sounding Albergue Danza y Musica. After walking through a short hailstorm, I made it in one piece to the front door of said albergue to discover it was closed.

I asked around for the other albergue, and found this very hidden refugio. I rang the bell, and this woman appeared. After asking about the albergue, she asked where I was coming from. I told her Cardeñuela, and she said "No - there are bed bugs in Cardeñuela. I have just been on the phone, & they said there are bugs."

She was totally ready to turn me away. I asked her if there may be a place on her floor I could sleep, she said no. I must have looked a sorry site, because finally she said "Ok, entra," and brought me into a reception room where 5 other pilgrims were waiting to be "processed".

After a long lecture about bed bug infestation (en français), she took her time studying each of our credencials and taking 25 euros from each of us as she would charge "half pension & cook dinner & serve a light breakfast."

As a pilgrim, I was grateful. Grateful that I had a hot shower, that I had a clean bed to sleep in. But Michelle, our landlady, was the kind of person who liked to have complete CONTROL of everything under her roof. I was not to use my sleeping sheet as to not potentially contaminate her bed. She even made me wrap my backpack in a plastic bag. She did however give us thin blankets (me & Miklos) because we weren't allowed to use ours.

Michelle was alone in this very, very nice house, with her cat Isabella, who she loved very much. Michelle had the opinion that Miklos (who arrived maybe half hour after me) and I were foolish to have stopped so early in Cardeñuela. Michelle, in a word, was very particular.

I guess I would be, too, if I was running an albergue. But after a while it seemed that she got off on being so compassionate to the weary pilgrims that crossed her door. She cooked for us and cared for some of the other pilgrim's feet, but she also treated us with a strange disdain, like peregrinos were deviant children who needed to be quiet & good in order to partake in her generosity.

I am humbled, as both days were strangely torturous.

I should have just slept on the couch here...

Saturday, May 5, 2007 

Day 10: A night of paranoia & truck stop towns...

So, my bro put the fear of gangrene in me yesterday (did not sleep well, & it did not help some distinctive pilgrims woke up at bloody 5am after being the last to go to bed) so this morning I promptly started @ 6:30am to Beldorado and was immediately seen by the doctor when I arrived at the Urgencias. He cleaned up my knee with Bactotran (I think similar to Polysporin) & betadine... He thinks its ok, & suggested I put the antibacterial stuff on for @ least the next 3-4 days.

So, at the same town I bought some sandwich material & some extra bandages & made it to Villafranca de Montes by about 1:30pm. A good 25km today...

The village has basically the highway as the main road with two bars. The better looking restaurant was also a truck stop that fed hungry drivers all day.

Did I mention how much I'm beginning to hate albergues? And once again there's nothing to do until dinner (tonight @ 8:30pm!) Don't want to sleep, otherwise can't sleep through the night.


More writing....

Thankfully, I wasn't on the floor... or sleeping next to pantless guy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007 

Day 9: Small villages are just that.

Today I started from the beautiful Afroza albergue (heated floors & dryer after a wet day are SO good.) I had met dear Sarah from Finland who asked to share a room with me. We were so overjoyed that it was only two to a room & that it was so wonderfully clean, we were estatic together. She is a sweetie, & I think I will probably run into her quite often along the way...

I woke up fairly on time and was out the door by 6:45am. On the road it was fairly cold but sunny once the sun rose. It was a beautiful walk from Azofra to Santo Domingo de la Calzada... I didn't stay there too long although I wanted to. I was able to see the great cathedral, but only the lobby & a quick prayer in the small section opened for such.

I was hoping to see a medic [about my knees] but ended up not wanting to wait around and moved on as I still had 11km to get to Redecilla de Camino.

Got there in plenty of time. Was in the albergue before 2, and hung around. Not a big place, so there wasn't much to see. In the guide books they write about this incredible baptismal font but when the church was opened, there was no sign of it...

It's now only 8:40pm. There isn't anything really to do. I'm really starting to hate albergues...

Oh well, bottom bunk happiness (with power outlet for charging right next to it, yay!)

Time to plug into the iPod... G'night.

Redecilla's Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Calle with no Romanesque Baptismal font...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 

Day 8: Je ne veux pas travaille, je ne veux pas dejeuner....

So, I thought that trudging through mud in a bit of rain was probably the
worst of it. Before that, it was the inclines that had me huffing and puffing. And everyday, I think my feet are going to break apart with each step as I get to the last hour...

But today, all this was trumped by walking 5 hours straight through non-stop wind and rain. (cold enough to freeze my camelbak watertube, which I thought could only happen in Winnipeg.)

I was up by 6 am before everyone else in my room (who all were in bed and sleeping by the time I got in at 9:45pm, funnily enough) and was out the door before everyone at 7am. But I had heard the rain as I was packing, so I waterproofed-up and headed out, no breakfast or coffee.

By the time I arrived in Ventosa (a mere 6km away from Navarette) my very thin pants were soaked and leaking onto my socks, and what I would assume by capillary action, started to fill my boots with water.

I stopped in the empty Ventosa albergue ( I would guess it was about 8:30am) to attempt to wring out my socks and POUR OUT MY BOOTS. I put on just about everything I owned to stave off the cold wind, and started out for the next leg (about 10 km to Nareja.)

I stopped for a cafe con léche grande (that one was for you, geege) and a pastry, then I made my way through Nareja with a strange oomph.

Maybe it was the fact that I had the coffee; maybe it was the fact it was so cold there was nothing but to keep walking fast to keep warm; maybe it was the fact that I just couldn't get any more wet & the water in my boots acted a little bit like a cushion (think of walking on a waterbed). Or perhaps it was the iPod, which I finally after the week of saving podcasts and such for the last hour walking: I gave in, plugged in, & listened to my 'new camino tunes' playlist. (thank u snowflake, for the Camino Tunes: the 70 minus 1 aka "69" song & "Je ne veux pas travaille" song made me LAUGH OUT LOUD.)

I don't know what it actually was, but I FLEW to Azofra (5.5km) and I almost danced the whole way. In the rain. :)

"Je ne veux pas travaille
Je ne veux pas le dejeuner
Je veux seulment oublier
et puis... je fume."

(thank u snowflake)

I smiled the whole way to Azofra and I'm still smiling.

Sarah from Finland enjoys the heated floors at the
Albergue Municpal or Azofra after the rainiest day on the camino.


Day 6 & 7: Still muddy, still painful

Yesterday, and the day before seemed hard. I made it from Villamayor de Monjardin to Viana, another 31km which puts me a good day ahead.

Viana was quite nice although I had got in late again (just before 4pm) and it meant I had to sleep top bunk. This albergue had 54 beds, but in triple bunks! Don't get me wrong, it's nice and semi-private up there. But thankfully I don't need the bathroom in the middle of the night...

From Viana its not long to Longroño. I had to spend a bit of time getting some cash from the machine & getting my sim card recharged (recarga tarjeta sim.) Because I wasted so much time there, I didn't get to Navarrette until 2pm, and to continue to Ventosa (the original plan) would have meant another late day. So, I stayed at the Albergue Cántaro (Remo & Chun, I think u were there too?) and had a little time to relax and play on the internet.

I had THE BEST DINNER I've had on this trip so far in Navarrette. The 'Bar Deportivo' in town served a pilgrims meal, & although there were many good choices, I chose for the primero plato: chickpeas in a delectable sauce, then I had the red peppers (pimentos) stuffed with cheese and bit of rice in a basil sauce. I had tira misu for dessert and true la rioja wine (OMG!) It was SO GOOD!

Went to bed completely satiated, and my bota filled with the leftover rioja wine (I had the bottle to myself...) It was a good sleep and a nice albergue, although I think there were bed bugs in this place last night, as i have little red marks on my arms... blech.

My first week, thankfully, is over!!!


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