Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Post Camino R & R

R & R, rest and relaxation, may be too mild a term for what is needed after walking almost 900kms. A more expansive expression is necessary; rest and relaxation plus rehabilitation, rehydration, relief, respite, recovery and then repatriation home. Fortunately we had allowed ourselves lots of extra time to indulge in as much R & R & R & R as we wanted. Having finished our Camino to Santiago in 31 days and, after one wonderful day of rest and visiting with Camino friends in Santiago and then completing the added 3 days Camino to Fisterre, we still had 10 days left over before our flight back to Canada. What to do, what to do?

Spending the first three days of our overtime in Fisterre was a quick, no-brainer decision. Fisterre won us over with its charming harbour, beaches and numerous cafes and restaurants.
It was a perfect spot to dump the backpacks in the hotel, hobble around the small village, sit on the cafe patios and share stories with other camino grads, hobble to the beach and soak sore feet in the cooling (cold) Atlantic water. Nothing to do and all day and night to do it. Perfect.

We had considered several other small villages or cities to visit, Muros or Ponteverde but at the last minute we decided the quick and easy two hour bus ride north to O Coruna was the way to go. As promised, getting to O Coruna was quick and easy and cheap, only 14 Euros. Unfortunately, once there we had to don those *&$%#@ backpacks again and plod through the busy streets to an information centre. We had no idea what O Coruna had to offer. First impressions were that it was a bigger city than expected, hectic, lots of construction and not so obviously charming. We learned that it did have a few beaches and, by accident or design, as we searched haphazardly (hobbled - there is a recurring theme here) through the busy streets I recognized a sign from one of the tourist books: Hotel Riazor. Turns out they had a room, 53 Euros without a view, 65 Euros plus tax with an oceanview. Throwing financial caution to the wind we took the oceanview. Good choice. Our lovely big room looked out over Riazor Beach - a topless beach. Because we were more comfortable with watching than participating in the 'topless' concept, we first headed out to shop for bathing suits. In the end, I just used a sports bra and my sleep boxer shorts rather than spend 40 to 80 Euros on a bathing suit, an ugly, poor fitting bathing suit.

Walking in the sand on the beach was brutal on my ankle and, while the cold Atlantic water felt great, by evening it was obvious it needed treatment. Off we went to a private hospital where, after consultation with a doctor, Xrays, ultrasound and 250Euros, we got a diagnosis of tendinitis and the usual presciption: rest, elevation, ice and anti-inflammatories. Nothing we hadn't already self-diagnosed but now it was official. The real rest wouldn't come until home though. I can't say we did much in O Coruna. Even the little bit of walking the sight seeing entailed was too much but flopping down on a beach towel or the hotel bed was enough to satisfy us. I revelled in hot water and a real shower and shaving my legs ( TMI - too much information?) Dayton revelled in not carry a 16kg backpack everywhere.

In O Coruna, we availed ourselves of a very helpful travel agent who helped us book bus tickets for a 7 hour bus ride to Salamanca, a reservation at the Hotel Monterrey near the Playa Mayor in Salamanca and then train tickets for later to Madrid.

The seven hour bus ride to Salamanca was not as bad as expected. We had a huge tour bus and only 7 passengers. However, this did not mean you could sit anywhere. Seats were assigned when we purchased the tickets and that's where we were to sit, even if the front row seats where empty or there were empty seats to sprawl out in right across from us.
The Hotel Monterrey was a very old hotel, again ideally located but no more carting backpacks, we were now into taxis. We enjoyed sitting at the cafe tables that edged the Playa Mayor, sipping wine and watching the tourists go by. The Playa Mayor was a happening place and there was a late night concert featuring a couple of 'boy bands'. We managed to stick around for only the first song of the first set. A super late night on the Camino might have been 10pm max. and we were still happy with that schedule. Our hotel was hosting a seniors' tour group and as the seniors left the hotel and filed ever so slowly onto their tour bus, obliviously blocking the hotel exit and the sidewalk, all I could think of was "next year that's us"?

Salamanca is a lovely university town and, surprisingly we ran into some James Madison University students who were starting a 6 week intensive course studying Spanish and partying - for 9 college credits. JMU is in Harrisonburg in Virginia just north of Dayton's home town.

We left Salamanca on Saturday, June 6th and took the train to Madrid. The train was easy and comfortable and the Metro was easy to navigate. Since I had booked us a room at an airport hotel, we took the Metro to the airport and then got our hotel shuttle to take us to the Hotel Clemente Baranjas which turned out to be another pleasant bonus; a very new and modern hotel. The Metro took us back into the centre of Madrid, an easy 50 minute trip and we immediately got tickets for the Madrid Vision double-decker sightseeing buses. I was disappointed that now they just hand out ear phones and you plug them into the language of your choice outlet. I had expected a real live tour guide. I think a tour guide would have given more information and extra tidbits about the places we were seeing. When we went back into Madrid again on Sunday we discovered a big 'tapas' market just outside and to the west of the Plaza Mayor. The market had many different tapas counters, wine and vermouth bars, an oyster bar, panadarias and it was definitely 'the place to be'. This is our style of touristing, food and wine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Final Thoughts on the Camino

The Camino Frances de Santiago de Compostela

It´s definitely a misnomer to title this final thoughts as I know I will be thinking about this Camino journey for a long time to come and I´m sure my impressions and memories will be enhanced when I have more time to reflect on this experience. However, here are some initial final thoughts. Ha!

It is what it is and it is what you make of it.

Wanderlust or pilgrims´quest, it is what you make of it. It can be as spiritual, as solitary, as communal, as cultural or as physical as you choose it to be. For me, it became an exceptional physical challenge as early on I developed tendinitis in my left ankle (probably because of the weight of carrying a backpack and overstriding to keep up with the others). We chose to walk every day, to push ourselves (although at the time I did not think of it as pushing myself as much as just keeping at it), to not take rest days, to walk more than 25kms most days and so the physicality of it all seemed to dominate. Actually, it wasn't so much that we chose to push ourselves but that one just gets caught up in the momentum and then you just get up and go each day.

While dealing with tendinitis emphasized the physical toll the camino took on me, the most impressive aspect of the camino was the people we met and the friendships we made. I know we will meet up with so many of these people again sometime in our life.

Arthur Boer noted several affirmations to think about on the Camino and I amended them for myself:

I am where I want to be.
I am doing what I want to do.
I am enjoying who I am with.
I will remember this.

Arthur Boer also started his book with "I once walked 500 miles to go to church".
I´m starting my book with "I once walked 500 miles to lose .3kg". Unfortunately that weight loss was short lived as I quickly regained that .3kg three days after that I quit walking.

Was it what I expected?

It took more of a physical toll than I expected. I never anticipated an insidiuous injury I couldn´t just tough out.

I don´t know at what point you can define something as spiritual so I can´t say if it was as spiritual as I expected. I certainly had many moments of zen when I was at peace with and in awe of my surroundings. The first three days walking the Meseta were particularly zen-like, so vast, green, serene, still and endless.

The community of pilgrims met my expectations. Wonderful, enjoyable and fun.

The scenery, the culture, the people of Spain and the pilgrims we met, were all as wonderful as I had expected and hoped.

It was more expensive than I thought it would be but that´s our economic style anyway. We always spend more than we planned but at the same time we didn´t spend on anything but food and wine. Well, there was one little 18carat gold shell pendant but that was planned before we left Canada.

Communal Living

I enjoyed the Camino community of pilgrims. I enjoyed the comaraderie and fellowship of meeting and sharing stories and life experiences, of eating together and walking together. I never got to the point of enjoying the communal living in terms of sharing dormitories or communal washrooms or showers.

I toughed out a lot of walks, toughed out carrying probably too much weight, toughed out being a vegetarian in a meatarian society but couldn´t get around toughing out cold showers or lack of toilet paper. Come on!

Things I´m Grateful For

That I did this with Dayton. He´s a great map reader and path finder. He was patient with my slower walking pace ( he didn't adjust his pace to it but he did wait patiently for me to catch up) and with carrying some of my stuff; sleeping and shower gear and my Keens.

I'm grateful for the alternative routes and the detours which he suggested and which we took: Bercianos, Samos, the high route out of Villafranca del Bierzo. Each one turned out to be a delightful surprise.

Would I Do it Again

I would definitely like to do a Camino again but would most likely try some of the other Caminos such as Le Puy on Velay through France and, maybe later, the Camino Via Plata from Seville, or the Camino Portuguese or Camino Arles. I would probably try to be less of a purist (if that´s the correct word I´m searching for) about it, taking some time off instead of making it a marathon, treating and resting the injuries instead of pushing through them and making them worse. Well that would be my intent anyway, whether it would evolve that way is another question. And I might investigate more private alberques or pensionnes. And like all pilgrims, I would pledge to be more ruthless about the weight in my pack and carry less. Ha!

Admiration and Respect

I admire and respect and am in awe of those who undertake this Camino on their own, especially the women. I know I would worry or second guess myself all the time wondering if I was following the right path, especially early in the morning.

Personal Goals

Did I live up to my personal goals? I think so.

Did I whine? I had set a goal to not whine and I don´t think I did although Dayton will note that I did mention my bad left ankle more than a couple of times. Even on the days when we had to add a few extra or even 15kms to our walk I didn´t voice my inner whines.

Did I live in the moment? Maybe. I enjoyed the moment but confess I was often thinking ahead to the next village, the next alberque, the next café stop or the next pilgrims´meal.
Did I pay attention? Definitely. I learned on the Wainwright Coast to Coast that all I was seeing were my boots so this time I was determined to pay attention and remember where I was, what I saw and, with the help of my journals and blogs, I think I will remember so much more about the Camino.
Did I let things irritate me? Nope, I was pretty good about accepting things. A couple of times the snorers and the pushy people kind of put me off my camino feelings of zen. The most irritating things on the camino were the cold showers and the lack of toilet paper.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda?

What do I wish we had done differently? Taken less (like everyone else). Stayed one more day in Santiago. Planned four days to get to Fisterre and then maybe added Muxia.

Camino Stats

  1. Number of days walking Karen: 33 Dayton: 34
  2. Total kms walked Karen: 856.5 Dayton: 892
  3. Average kms per day 26.2
  4. Kms walked with tendinitis Karen: 531.5
  5. Number of alberques: 32
  6. Average cost of alberques: €7
  7. Number of sellos (stamps): 52
  8. Average € per day: €50 for two people. Obviously too many bocadillos and cafe con leches
  9. Countries represented by Pilgrims we met: 27
  10. Longest Walk: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Burgos: 40.5+ kms
  11. Shortest Walk: St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson: 7.5kms
  12. Toughest Walk: Dayton - Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro + Olveiroa to Fisterre
  13. Toughest Walk: Karen - Orisson to Roncesvalles + Arca to Santiago
  14. Meanest Weather: Orisson to Roncesvalles (blizzard) + Arca to Santiago (rainstorm)
  15. Most beautiful walk: Foncebadón to Molineseca
  16. Most spectacular walk: Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro
  17. Most serene walk: Castrojeriz to Fromista - magnificent
  18. Best meal/alberque experience: Bercianos Real Camino
  19. Best vegetarian meal: Manzarife and Bercianos Real Camino (made vegetarian for Karen)
  20. Worst meal experience: Redicilla del Camino (mean restauranteurs)
  21. Glasses of wine: 112 each - at least
  22. Number of beer: Dayton- 56 at least, Karen - 12 at least
  23. Amount of Mefix used: 4 metres of 5" Mefix
  24. Mgs of painkillers used: 37,050mgs at least and counting
  25. Number of marital spats: ZERO
  26. Easiest walk: NONE
  27. Number of pictures taken: 1838 and counting
  28. Best Village/Town: Fisterre + Villafranca del Bierzo
  29. Best City: Astorga
  30. Number of nights ruined by snorers (roncquistadors): 3
  31. Best Dining Experience: Beachside restaurant in Fisterre
  32. Amount of gas charged to Shell while we´ve been WALKING the Camino: $335.33 -Hmm?
  33. Number of Masses attended - Roncesvalles, Carrion de Condes, Santiago, Samos, and Bercianos del Real: 5
  34. Amount of weight lost: 31.6 lbs. - Dayton at least 20, John 11, Me .6 lbs. Yes that´s not even one full pound actually by the scale it was .3kg. Aaaaaaargh.
  35. Cost of having 10 days left over: the same as the first 35 Camino and Fisterre days = a lot!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Enjoying Fisterre

Our first night at the Hotel Ancora was the noisest night I´ve spent on the entire Camino but we have now moved to a quiet, cooler back room and all is good. After John left, we headed to the beach to enjoy the sun and the ocean. The fact that no one had beach wear or bathing suits is apparently not a concern for most of the European pilgrims, we retained our Canadian modesty.

Charlotte Jensen, a Danish lady who is now living in Spain and who had just finished her Camino, invited us to join a group who had planned lunch at an amazing and very, very upscale beachside restaurant that specializes in seafood and in particular shellfish. What another stroke of serendipity! This was an eating delight for seafood lovers. Dayton shared the ´owners special´which gave them three platters of different shellfish (scallops with crab, clams, razor clams and a freebie of barnacles), a platter of two types of fish (bass and something else with its head still there), a platter of potatoes and another of salad and a couple of bottles of white wine - all for about €40.00 each.

Last night was equally interesting as we joined Liane and Jürgen, from Düsseldorf, for a walk to another beach where we enjoyed some wine and cheese, the sunset and a fire which Jürgen built so that they could burn their Camino underwear and socks. Great fun.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Done and done in!!

Friday, May 29 Cabo de Fisterre - the end of the world!

My Fisterre certificate will have to have an asterix beside it because I had to throw in the camino towel this morning. We left Oliveiroa at our usual 6:15am with me hobbling along using my hiking sticks almost as crutches. After 20 minutes we had gone less than a half a kilometre and realized there was no way I could get through 31kms so my gift to Dayton was to turn around and let him go on alone. He can walk at least 6kms an hour and I was struggling to get 2kms an hour at this point.

I went back to the cafe in Oliveiroa and had breakfast with the late starters then took a taxi to Fisterre. We did drive pass Dayton around 8am when he was doing a little road walking; we beeped, waved and kept on going. In Fisterre, a German lady I had met in Ponferrada many days ago, recommended her hotel so I booked into it, left my mochilla (backpack) and headed back down to the port. It was serendipity that, as I was limping into the town centre, there was John calling out a welcome. The camino does provide some things and friends is one of those things. He had taken the bus into town yesterday and had sent an email that he would meet us but we didn´t have internet so this was a complete surprise.

We limped around town together and waited for Dayton to arrive, which he did at 1:10pm!! With me, we would still be walking until sunset. I did manage to struggle my way the 3kms to the Cabo do Fisterre which is the official end of the world I guess. While we were taking pictues at the Cabo do Fisterre, I received a text message from Courtney encouraging me and telling me I could finish it all but, if not, to be proud of what how much I had already accomplished. It gave me a moment of disappointment to realize I didn´t get it all done but I did walk over 850kms and 500kms of those were with a wrecked ankle.

Then we hitched a ride for me back into town.

So now we are all done and done in and seriously beat up. As I said, the Camino is humbling especially if you have the audacity to think you´re in good shape. Now we will take the next week to enjoy some R & R in these lovely oceanside pueblos. John leaves tomorrow to make his way to Madrid and has changed his flight for an earlier departure. We will stay in Fisterre a few days then go to O Coruña for a few more and then decide where to go next. Should be fun.

Brutal long hot day!

Only 31kms to go and it´s not looking good! My ankle is beyond painful. I just can´t get it to work. We left the alberque at 6:20am, me full of meds ( I will need dialysis at the end of this) and were off to a great start but then we missed a sign at the first village and added a couple of kms detour down into a valley and then had to double back UP to find the markers. By that time all those who had started after a leisurely breakfast had gone ahead.

Just as some say "golf is a great walk ruined", well today was a beautiful walk ruined by the stress of worrying that we there´d be no room at the inn. This day was so hot and, having turned a 33 kms day into a 37kms day, Dayton and I were hot, dehydrated and exhausted when we got to Olveiroa. It was especially hard for Dayton who had to keep waiting, in the hot sun, for me to catch up, again and again and again. The good news was that there was a bed for us; no hot showers or toilet paper, but at least a bed. They say "the camino provides" but damn I wish it would provide what I consider a few necessities of life. However, there´s never been a lack of wine so guess I shouldn´t complain.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where you go, I will go.

Today we set out at 6:30am across the deserted dark cathedral square and headed out of town on our three day trek to Fisterre. As I was following Dayton, who was as usual 100 metres ahead of me, I recalled that in our wedding service we used the passage from the Book of Ruth "whither thou goest, I will go" or "where you go, I will follow" and now, almost 28 years later, I am following Dayton to the end of the world and how neat is that!

The walk today was along a lovely pathway cutting through eucalyptus and pine trees and bordered by ferns and foxgloves. I am becoming a trail snail and just like the walk from Arca into Santiago every single person on their way to Fisterre passed us, well me anyway. This is a major problem as there are not many spaces in the few alberques along this route. This is going to be bit of a rat race.

I´m losing it on the hills now too. I used to think I was a little mountain goat on the hills with the best defence being a good offense so I would just attack the hill busting up it as hard as I could. Now I´m like the Little Engine that Could (or couldn´t).......I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Instead of getting stronger and stronger, I´m fading. This camino is humbling.

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Our second morning in Santiago was warm and wonderful and full of fun and couldn´t have been more drastically different than our dismal and dreary arrival the day before. After an unhurried breakfast, at 9:30am, we walked the 50 steps from our hotel to the major square in front of the cathedral and started taking pictures and greeting people as they arrived.

John was the first and then there was just a steady stream of those with whom we had walked all along our camino. We seemed to have met everyone - Wayne and Andre from Quebec, Emilio from Spain, Ingelise from Denmark, Jill from California and the Camino documentary the camera crew that was tracking her and others, Liane and Jurgen from Germany, Bruce from Vancouver, Anne from Boston, Son and James from Korea and Martin from Germany. Martin was the first person we met in Orisson at the start of our pilgrimmage but he walks fast and he left us behind early on. We met up with him in the cathedral and we all went out for café con leches before the noon hour pilgrims´mass.

It was especially neat to see how emotional some pilgrims were to receive communion at this mass. One woman was sobbing as she returned to her seat. At the same time, I was elbowed out of the communion line by those who wanted to get to communion faster. Imagine! A Korean priest, who had just finished his camino, assisted with the mass and another pilgrim sang two songs, one Ave Maria just as mass finished. Absolutely amazing.

The afternoon was spent in the garden plaza right outside our hotel which turned out to be a prime spot because everyone passed through there and stayed for a drink or two or three or for the afternoon.

It was just a great afternoon and just how the camino should finish.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Slogging into Santiago!

Tuesday, May 26, Cathedral in Santiago!

After 31 days of walking, our wet, weary and very squishy entrance into Santiago was more than somewhat of an anti-climax then the grand excited entrance I had invisioned. You would think by now I would learn not to make assumptions.

We once again layered up with raincoats, backpack covers, hats and ponchos and left Arca at 6:20am in the pouring rain and the rain didn´t let up all day. I even had rubber gloves over my thermal gloves. The Gortex water-proofing in my hiking boots surrendered to the rain after the first hour and I spent the next three and a half hours sloshing and slogging my way along the trail. Once again those assumptions I make! Imagine, I assumed that waterproof boots would keep my feet dry. Dayton´s boots weren´t waterproof to start with so his feet were wet even sooner than mine. I can´t describe much of the scenery along the way because the hoods from the poncho and raincoat result in total tunnel vision so I spent the entire morning just looking at my leaking boots. I could have been on the Bruce Trail or in Komoka.

There was a steady stream of ponchoed pilgrims slopping their way into Santiago and Dayton made note that every one of them passed us along the way. It was busy enough that there was never a moment of privacy so there was never an opportunity for a much needed pit stop. The only café abierto was around San Marcos and the line up for everything, from the washroom to getting a café or bocadillo, was so long that we just kept going. By this time Dayton´s poncho had ripped to shreds so he just stuffed it in a dumpster and soaked up the rain some more.
At Lavacolla pilgrims traditionally wash off the weeks of accumulated dirt and sweat before arriving at the Cathedral but at that point we were so wet that washing would have been superfluous. Just to emphasize how wet it was...I had taped my toes with mefix in the morning and when I took my boots off in Santiago the mefix was floating in my socks!

It took about an hour to get from the first sign post on the outskirts of Santiago to the Cathedral. We took a couple of obligatory pictures and headed straight for the line up to get our credentials stamped and our Compostela certificates. The wait was just over one hour! Then we just headed out into the rain again to find our hotel. The Hotel Babantes is ideally located just steps from the Cathedral but I foolishly decided to save some €uros and booked a small rather than large double room. I should have remembered that in Europe small means really, really small. Regardless, it´s luxurious compared to the alberques we´ve been sharing with hundreds of others. And the real bonus is that Dayton discovered we can get CNN in English on our TV not that we really want to get hit with the reality of world crises but it is good to hear English spoken.

We had a great ITALIAN dinner at a restaurant right across from our hotel and I´m voting to go there again tomorrow. I actually had spinach- a green vegetable. Other than lettuce it´s the only green vegetable I´ve been served here.

So tomorrow, it´s meet people coming into town and we think John will be one of them, go to the Pilgrims´Mass, shop for souvenirs that weigh less than 1/4kg., so no one expect much, and then get our stuff dry enough we hope to head out on our three day walk to Fisterre, the end of the world. Personally, I don´t think those ´big girl underpants´( the ones that are used to get up, get on with it and tough it out) are going to be dried in time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Who expects a blister three days before Santiago! I have my very first hiking blister ever. I think it developed because of the way I´ve been compensating for my sore ankle and putting to much pressure on the ball of my foot. Anyway I´ve just plastered it with Compeed and padded it with lamb´s wool and I´m still good to go.

The walk from Arzúa to Arca this morning was about the easiest walk we´ve had yet. It was almost all along a really nicely wooded level path and there was a welcomed café stop mid-morning. We have about 20kms to go to Santiago and the general sense from the other peregrinos here is that everyone sets out around 5-5:30am to get to Santiago in time to get their certificates and to go to the noon hour mass. I´m not sure we´ve going to head out into the dark much earlier than normal as I don´t want to add the possibility of injury to my already wrecked ankle.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Santiago is in sight!

Today we went from Palas de Rei to Arzua and, barring any more injuries or traumas, we should be in Santiago by Monday. It is our plan to spend Tuesday sitting in the square outside the cathedral greeting all the incoming pilgrims. However, it´s good not to expect things to go as planned on this camino so we´ll just see.

This morning we set out from Palas de Rei in a light rain with raincoats and backpack covers on and with thunder threatening in the sky. Most of today´s walk was through lovely wooded paths. After Melide, about 15kms into the day, we were walking through a eucalyptus and pine forest and the smell of the eucalyptus was so welcomed and soothing especially since we´ve been going passed a lot of cow pastures where the aroma is not so soothing. For most of the day the raincoats, hats and raincovers were on and off, on and off, on and off as the rain just kept teasing us all day and it was hot.

Dayton says his body is starting to break down and he´ll be lucky if his boots make it to Fisterre as they are starting to fall apart. I don´t think it will be any great loss if they don´t make it back to Canada.

Arzua is reportedly famous for smooth creamy cheese so we´ll be on a hunt for that right after Dayton finishes his smooth creamy cervaza.

The rain started right around dinner time so we ended up going to a ´burger joint´two doors down from our alberque. Dayton had a great huge burger with tomato, lettuce, bacon and a fried egg on it. Quite a change from the usual pilgrims´menu.

Spent the evening sharing wine and stories with a Canadian couple from Thunder Bay who are finishing up their third or fourth camino, this time the Camino Madrid.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hmm, how do they do it?

Sometimes I just can´t figure out how some of these peregrinos are doing this camino with such apparent ease. Dayton and I can start out an hour before anyone else, walk for two hours and then see a couple of the pilgrims who stayed at the same alberque as us, who were still sleeping when we left and there they are, sitting at a cafe having a café con leche. And to add insult to injury, some of them taking a smoke break! We´ll go on ahead and, before you know it, there they are again sitting at a taberna having beer and bocadillos and we´re still plodding along sharing a banana and an apple on the go. How could they possibly get in front of us! I think there´s a bus somewhere.

Yesterday from Samos to Ferreiros was tediously slow. We walked the same amount of time as the day before but covered 5km less, barely 3.5km an hour. Today, Friday May 22, with the help of 3 (650mg) Tylenol, 2-3 Advils, a chocolate croissant, 2 lemonades and fairly co-operative and kind terrain I busted through 35.5 kms from Ferreiros to Palas de Rei. We did not intend to go this far but none of the alberques we passed were open so we just kept going. Fortunately, the municipal alberque in Palas de Rei was full and we are again in a private alberque above a restaurant/bar and it´s great; roomy and clean and comfortable.

We went out to the traditional pilgrims´meal with Ingelise (from Denmark) and Emilio ( a recently retired Spanish high school Music and English teacher). As we were having dessert, the owner came over and poured whisky over all our Galacian tart/cake. Very good. Emilio also introduced Dayton to a very potent Spanish after-dinner drink. It was sort of like the Spanish equivalent of Greek Ouzo or German Schnapps or maybe Jack Daniels. Whatever it is called it was good and potent. Of course, Dayton operates under the assumption that if one of anything is good then two must be better and in Emilio he found a kindred spirit. So while the men were indulging in their second shot, Ingelise and I headed back to the alberque. About a half hour later two very happy pilgrims returned to the alberque.

Santiago is in sight. Three or four days to go.

Dayton´s Detours

I have to hand it to Dayton, he always takes the road less travelled. The guidebooks have offered several alternative routes or side excursions which piqued Dayton´s interest and off we'd go. It was his decision to take that detour to Bercianos and, as I described in an earlier blog, that was a really special experience. We were among the few who chose to take the high route out of Villafrance del Bierzo to O´Cebreiro and that was unbelievably beautiful. Dayton also chose the six and half kilometre longer route from O´Cebreiro to Samos and this too turned out to be an incredible bonus.

Samos is a small vibrant village that is built around a magnificent monastery. We chose to stay at a private refugio (above a taberna which had great food) rather than at the monastery but we joined Emilio, a Spanish peregrino, and two of his friends on a tour of the monastery. This monastery was once one of the most influential cloisters in the world and had the greatest library which was destroyed in a fire in 1951. It is still an active monastery as there are still 13-15 monks living there and we saw each and every one of them when we went to Vespers that night. They are not a young group. I wasn´t sure they would all survive the evening service.

We ended up having a late dinner at our ´hotel´, sharing a drink with Brittany and Jordan, two young kids from Ottawa, whom we´ve run into a few times.

Breathtaking May 19 Villafranca to OCebreiro

"If life is measured not in the number of breaths you take but in the moments and places that take your breath away", well this was a day filled with those moments. As we were leaving Villafranca del Bierzo this morning the camino signpost offered two options, one listed as VERY DIFFICULT. Well guess which one Dayton chose to follow. We climbed straight up for almost two hours - it was so steep I thought that if I leaned back to look up at the sky my backpack would tip me over backwards tumbling me down the hill and I´d have to start up all over again. As we were struggling uphill I did feel a moment of discouragement as I took a second to look hundreds of metres down and there were the pilgrims who chosen to take the easier lower level road path. I swear they were skipping ! However, our struggles were definitely well rewarded. The steep laborous climb may well have had us breathing deeply for air but the views took our breath away as well. It was spectacular.

We had a rapid descent, then a tedious road walk before we headed back uphill again towards O´Cebreiro. This was tough, probably the toughest climb, but once again the rewarding panoramic views were magnificent. It reminded me of the poem ´High Flight´ :

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I´ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...................
High in the sunlit silence.

We may not have been flying but we were close and we did reach the top of the world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What a Wonderful World

Today we had a freezing cold but glorious climb from Foncebadón to Manjarin on our 29km way to Ponferrada. The mountain laurels and heather were in spectacular abundance carpeting the mountain in yellow, pink, purple and white bushes. With the deep valleys below and the snow capped mountains in the distance and the paths lined with these wonderful spring flowers it was an amazing walk. However, I am hoping that those majestic snow-capped mountains remain a distant view and that we don´t have to climb them any time soon.

Just a couple kilometres past Foncebadón, we reached La Cruz de Ferro where we left the stones that we have carried from Canada and then just beond that we were at the highest point of the Camino walk and it was all downhill for the rest of the day. Coming down over the rocky path was really difficult and tough on the nagging injuries.

Molinaseca looked like a charming village and a great place to stay but, because it wasn´t yet noon hour, Dayton and I decided to keep going to Ponferrada. While I´m glad we have that two hour walk to Ponferrada out of the way, I´m less than charmed by the alberque in Ponferrada. It´s a zoo; like Grand Central Station, crowded, noisy, with at least a dozen people cooking in the kitchen at a time and with a steady stream of people checking in all afternoon. The four person dormitories noted in the guidebook are a myth and the showers are freezing. All together it just adds up to irritating. John is probably basking in ambience in Molinaseca.

We also had another blast of reality hit us as we just learned that someone at the alberque we stayed at last night had all his money stolen this morning as people were getting ready to leave for the day. We´ve all been very blasé and naive about our belongings up to now. Who knew pilgrims stole!

But tomorrow´s a new day and hopefully it will be another great walk.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Am I Missing?

I have a sense that we´re missing a lot of the life and culture of the cities in which we are staying but which we are not totally experiencing. There´s a whole other life happening in these cities after we tired aching peregrinos hit the sack. Last night we walked down to the main plazas in Astorgo but we were still too early, at 6:30pm, to be served any sort of a meal so we just hit the tiendas for some cheese, Iberian Black Foot Pig Ham (whatever it is and whatever it is costs about 59 Euros a kilo!) for Dayton, bread and wine. The plazas were starting to teem with locals and it would have been interesting to sit out and observe the Friday night happenings but tired, cold and hobbling we went back to the alberque and shared our goodies, chatting with some of the other pilgrims and went to bed early. Actually, this is no different than life back in London where the only thing I know about the night life is from picking my children up when the bars close.

Today was a fairly easy walking day, even with the swollen legs, shin splints and wrecked ankle. We walked from Astorga to Rabanal and got in three hours before the alberque opened so pressed on to Fonceban. From Rabanal to Fonceban we got a wonderful glimpse of our first spring flowers and fields of flowering heather. It was a really beautiful hilly climb. We would have continued on but the rain came and a bed and peregrino meal was available at Foncebadon so we seized the moment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another Camino Gem

On Thursday, May 14th we walked from Villarente through Leon and on to Mazarife, a 35km day. Dayton´s left ankle is now double the size of his right and I still have mine taped up for support. We are thankful that the Spanish farmacias are quite aggressive with their drug dosages; Tylenol is sold in 500mg. caplets. Today, Friday, May 15th we walked another 31kms from Mazarife to Astorga. Both the last two days have been really, really cold windy starts. Freezing! The walk today was mostly on those horrible stony paths that are so hard on the feet and ankles.

So far my Camino has been more physical than anything else. I haven´t transcended to any level of spirituality, at least not yet. However, I have had a couple of ecstatic experiences, albeit both have been culinary. I´ve already noted the wonderful meal Maria Luisa prepared for us in Bercianos del Camino being definitely worthy of a prayer of thanks and rivalled only by last night´s pilgrim´s meal in the Alberque San Antonis de Padua in Villar de Mazarife. Imagine my delight to discover that the meal was all vegetarian and the vegetarian paella rated a standing ovation. The chef had three large paella pans, each about 30" in diameter, mounted on stands fired by propane tanks. After everyone had had their fresh salad, rustic bread ( a far cry from the baquette of WonderBread we´ve been offered lately), and wine and had been served their first dish of paella, the chef set out an extra pan on paella for second and third helpings. That rated a spontaneous round of applause and, just like Maria Luisa and Andre from Bercianos, the chef and hospitalera were so proud and full of joy to have their talents so recognized and appreciated. It was too bad we were too cheap to reserve the 4€ breakfast, as the chef was deep frying churros at 6am this morning as we were getting ready to leave. AAAaaargh. I think there should be a cook-off between the Bercianos team and the Mazarife team and I want to be the tasting judge.

Dayton and John had also enjoyed a really great and distinctive breakfast in Leon. They had what seemed like the traditional Tortilla Patatas but these ones were layered, a traditional tortilla on the bottom topped with mayonnaise, tomatoes and onions and then another spinach tortilla on top. If only I ate eggs.

We are staying at the Alberque San Javier tonight which is right across from the ancient catedra and an huge monstrosity of a church that looks like Fantasyland or Fairyland from Disney.

Tomorrow we´re off to Rabanal and probably will meet up with John, Son and James again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday May 12 Terradillos to Bercianos & Wednesday May 13 Bercianos to Vilarente

The walk from Terradillos de los Templarios was another rather non-descript walk along the 'sendas' which are pilgrims' pathways alongside of the highway. Today´s path was very rocky and uneven and difficult to walk on. We were pleasantly surprised to find a bar open at Moratinos at 7:30am so we had a tea, cafe and sweet croissant. Despite taping the ankle, every step was painful and consequently I was painfully slow - a trail snail but we just kept plodding along with only a couple of quick stops in Sahagun at a 'tienda' for food and a 'farmacia' for some trainers´ tape for my ankle.

Dayton had heard about a newly renovated alberque in Bercianos which featured an evening communal meal and pilgrims´service which appealed to him. I was ambivalent so we took the alternate camino route to Bercianos. Bercianos Real Camino was, like so many of the other older towns along the old camino route, almost deserted and very run down and the alberque didn't look much better, just an ancient crumbling clay building on the verge of collapse. The alberque, run by a very quiet hospitalero and a grandmotherly hospitalera seemed rather unassuming and not that promising. A pleasant surprise was in store for us.

Pilgrims are encouraged to help with the evening meal preparations and that´s when things started to look up. The senora wrapped me in a huge apron and set me to slicing and dicing vegetables for the eveníngs' lentil stew and salad. She was most precise that everything be cut up muy pequeno, muy pequeno exactly the way she wanted and she supervised every cut. With three other peregrinas, I cut veggies for well over an hour. She did not understand the concept of 'vegetariano' and just couldn´t bring herself to save me a bowl of the lentil stew before the chorizo sausage had been added. It smelled so good and I was more than a little disappointed. However, the more we worked, the happier she was. The bowl of salad and the pot of lentil stew were each the size of a large washtub. Just before dinner she did scoop me out a big bowl of the stew right before the chorizo was added and set it aside for me. Thank goodness. About 35 peregrinos sat down a long, long tables to this wonderful meal accompanied by bread and wine. The senora hospitalera positively radiated joy and she beamed as she served her peregrinos.

This alberque is run by these two wonderfully charitable individuals out of the goodness of their heart and they asked only a donativo, a donation to offset their costs. It was just a great experience and a great night.

We left the next morning, Wednesday, after a generous desayuno, breakfast spread and with hugs and 'buen camino' to see us on our way. Again the walk today was along sendas, this time tree lined. With my ankle stabilized with trainers tape and a lot of Advil and Tylenol, I managed to walk the 34kms to Vilafrente with a lot less pain than I expected. Nothing out of the ordinary distinquished this walk. It was just long, level and peaceful. Tomorrow we'll be in Leon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

May 11 Carrión de las Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios

We did have a wonderful meal last night and then all went to mass and then the pilgrims´ benediction. After mass, continuing in a pilgrim tradition, we went to a bar for wine. It was quite comical as we scrounged for 3 more centavos to make up 1€ 50 to buy a second round. Yes, wine was 50 cents a glass!

This morning we left the alberque to the sound of a music, the singing of a nuns´choir and that´s about as exciting as the day got. It was sort of a non-blog-worthy day, long, flat and painful. There was no where to stop for the first 24kms although around 8:30am we did come across what looked like a chip wagon. They were making up bocadillos and sausages. If only there had been chips I´d have ordered some regardless of the time. There has to be some reward for walking 27kms again. Still fighting shin splints, tendinitis or just plain pain but Advil and anti-inflammatory cream got me through the 27kms. A little icing of the shins and a few glasses of vino and tomorrow´s a new day. This alberque is the only show in town so all the peregrinos have congregated in the big cafeteria and are sharing tales and wine as we while away the time until another peregrinos´meal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday, May 10 Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

Today was a relatively short day with only 20km but, for some reason, it was still hard. I´m revising my earlier comment that "there´s never an easy day on the Camino but some are easier than others". Now it´s all days on the Camino are hard and some are just a lot harder than others. Battling shin splints is tough and I think Dayton is starting to get them too. His could be due to the added weight he´s carrying from the few teeny weeny little tiny things I´ve had to add to his pack.

We took the alternate route from Fromista so that we could walk along the river path rather than the main road although, with today being Sunday, even the main roads are fairly quiet. We are all just cherishing the moments on the Meseta. What wonderfully peaceful walks!

We got to Carrion de los Condes before the alberque opened at noon today. James and Son were already starting the backpack line up to get in. This alberque is run by the nuns of Santa Maria, very welcoming but I think we have to go to mass at 7pm. I think they take attendance and who knows what the penance is for missing - no wine?

Tonight we´re having a big group meal with everyone contributing something. With the limited produce available at the local supermercado, it´ll be like the Iron Chef with everyone having the same ingredients to see what they can come up with. Whatever, it will all be good.

May 9 Castrojeriz to Fromista

Walked out into the dark morning with the horizon gently filtered by a soft hazy fog. The first few kilometres were a painful hobble as my right iliotibial band and knee were aching, probably because of overcompensating for my left ankle which is almost frozen immobile from tendinitis, arthritis, shin splints or a possible stress fracture. Okay, that may be a slightly incompetent diagnosis but it makes me seem more stoic by soldiering on with a stress fracture rather than merely a sore ankle.

Before long there was a 25 minute steep climb which worked wonders for my ankle - go figure - it was almost as good as a physiotherapy session. I don´t know if it was the angle of the incline or the front of my boot massaging the ankle but once I got to the top it had loosened up enough that I could walk with ease. Huh!

The walk across this part of the Meseta was spectacular; silent, serence and endless and endless in a zen kind of way. The tranquility of the Meseta makes me aware of just how out of touch with world events at the moment. It is quite an indulgence to start each day with walking rather than with caffeine and the newspaper. At the moment, I don´t meet the day heartsickened over a missing child, frustrated and depressed over the plunging economy and my equally plunging life´s savings, hardened by the devastation and loss caused by another misguided suicide bomber or saddened by yet another Canadian soldier who has lost his life or limbs to an IED, not to mention the insane carnage by ´drinking and driving or speeding on our freeways. It may be somewhat of an óstrich´mentality but for the moment that is okay.

We got to the municipal alberque at Fromista, a spacious well-equipped hostel. The rooms are big enough and again it´s always a bonus to have separate gender facilities for showering and whatnot. We were a little disappointed because Suzanna (our Korean Fashion Designer tenured Professor) had promised us a Korean curried fried rice dinner but it will have to be tomorrow. It´s almost like a Camino reunion as the French Canadian men have just arrived, Suzanna is here, Gin and Julia (both young Korean girls) as well as Son and James Kim.

The wear and tear of the daily physical challenges are starting to take their toll. James has had such bad shin splints that he went to the medical centre and has been told not to walk for a few days. That means he has to take a taxi each day (22Euros a time) for the next couple of days. Gin´s backpack straps have broken, a pack she just bought three days ago in Burgos. This put a lot of extra stress on her carrying the bag and so she too is limping. Another your Austrian girl with shin splints decided to walk only 12km (only! - that´s considered taking it easy on the Camino.

We have another three days to enjoy the Meseta and we´re hoping the rain holds off. It is so much easier when the weather is dry. We are sticking to the guidebook for the Meseta just to make sure we don´t get stranded in the middle with 17km to find a place to stay. Getting to an alberque before noon also means we have time to recuperate.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday May 8, Hornillas to Castrojeriz

This was another quick easy day. We were on the road by 6:30am, had a quick mid-morning cafe con leche stop in Hontanas, an exquisite Medieval village and had covered 21 kms through the Meseta by just shortly after 11am. As these past couple of days have been getting hotter and hotter, that early morning walk is really appreciated. We had to stand aside and wait for a shepherd, his dog and donkey and a full herd of sheep to pass us as we came into Castrojeriz. The alberque here, Casa Nostra, is in an ancient house with rooms here, there and everywhere. Space to spread out our gear is always a bonus.

It seems indulgent to walk only 4 1/2hours but Castrojeriz is another pretty little medieval town with a castille high on the hill above the town. John, Dayton and I decided to walk up to it before showers. It was a pretty steep climb but the views were well worth it. We climbed the steps up into the tower and had lunch looking out over the town and the wide stretch in every direction of the Meseta.

We had heard how desolate and bleak the Meseta is and not a fun few days but we are all enjoying the quiet walks and the wide expanse of green fields although today we started to see the change to drier more limestoney fields.

May 7 Burgos to Hornillas

Aaah, the incredible recuperative powers (coupled with anti-inflammatory cream and Advil) of the human body. It´s amazing what a good night´s sleep, even with tired aching legs and feet grumbling at you all night, can do for you. I was sure I´d never walk again after yesterday´s 40kms.

Plans are made and plans are made to be revised and refined. The alberque in Burgos was willing to store backpacks while pigrims toured the city but it was an all or nothing policy whereby you had to vacate by 8am or wait until after 12pm to retrieve your packs and then start the day´s 20+ km hike after lunch. We decided to count yesterday´s grueling crawl through the streets of Burgos looking for the alberque and last night´s outdoor dinner in the Playa Major in the shadows of the catedra as our sightseeing tour.

That decision set, we took our packs and joined the noisy throngs of the ´not get up and go´types in the gigantic common room which was abuzz with those having breakfast, using the computer, setting out bikes or bags and easing eaching feet into still dust covered boots. We headed out by 8:15 and, with all the energy or "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead", we burst into the first panaderia all the way and ordered everything in sight: one croissant, a chocolate croissant, a twisted crunchy sugary donut com pretzel and two thin crispy sugared elephant ears. All were devoured quickly without a single calorie counting guilt-filled thought.

We followed the yellow Camino arrows out of Burgos onto a grey stone road that took us into our first glimpse of the Meseta. A quick caffeine break in Tarajados and then another 10km to Hornillas del Camino. The alberque was clean but exceptionally cramped and the proprietor ran a strict ship, you had the mop the floor after your shower. Since we arrived before 12:30pm, we had a sunny, leisurely afternoon to enjoy a lunch in the square, a lunch of those big bulbous green onions, tomatoes, ham, bread, apples and lots of wine and beer.

A couple of interesting side notes here. There was an interesting trio we passed along the way and who, as it happens on the Camino, showed up at the same stop. The man and women, brother/sister or boyfriend/girlfriend I never got clear, were doing the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago with the woman´s three and a half year old son. He had on his hiking boots but they also had a big stroller with them for when he tired and he charmed everyone in the square all afternoon and evening. We´re not sure whether this group was pilgrim or free spirits because they didn´t seem to have a place to stay but were, I think, counting on the Camino providing and it seemed to be doing so.

The other tale is of Bruce Graham from Vancouver who got an infected toe from lancing a blister. He had had it treated in Logrono and went into the emergency room at Burgos to have it looked at again and to have the dressing changed. He said the emergency room was packed and noisy but, after giving his information, he settled down to wait. His wait turned out to be SIX MINUTES! before he was called into triage, saw a doctor, had xrays and the bandage changed and was out the door in unter 35 minutes. And not once was a fee mentioned.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hola-la-la Day 12 Villafranca to Burgos!

This was one of those days where ´man plans and God laughs´. We did not set out to go to Burgos in one day. The morning pilgrims were stirring by 5am and we set out wonderfully early into a perfect morning. The first two hours were a solitary walk up a steep mountain path bordered by heather. The road levelled out to a stony path cutting through a pine forest. By 9:15am we were at St. Juan de Ortega, 12.2km in 2 1/2 hours. After St. Juan we went through Ages where some stopped for cafe con leche and to strip off layers of clothes. The path branched off after Atapuerca and we went up another steep climb over very rugged, rocky terrain then it was blessedly but steeply down into Cardeñuela, our planned stop for the day. By Cardeñuela we had walked 25kms and it was already one o´clock. Unfortunately, the alberque at Cardeñuela had closed the year before and we were left with no choice but to carry on to Burgos.

A couple of kilometres took us into Orbaneja where we stocked up on some calories, tortillas patatas, bocadillos, cervaza and helado (ice cream) . We left Orbaneja at 1:15pm and it was a long slow walk to Burgos. Feet were tired and burning. Some had to stop and add mefix over hot spots, others stopped to change socks and I had to take off my sock liners to make room for my swelling feet. I´m still amazed that Dayton and John can still go at the same pace. I was a trail snail.

A kind senor in Castañares steered us off the traditional camino path onto a route that went along the rio into Burgos. It was not a short cut. Coming into Burgos was a bit confusing but eventually we found the alberque, a big very modern facility right, which seemed to be furnished by IKEA, near the catedra. I was surprised to be charged only 3 Euros. We´ve got a big spacious room on the third floor with showers and washrooms right by our corner and lockers beside our beds. We´re taking advantage of the washing machine and dryers then hopefully we can find a place nearby to eat. I´m also amazed that we have met up with other walkers who started from Villafranca after we did and they arrived earlier and here they are in the alberque looking fresh and full of energy.

The good part of this is that we can relax a little in the morning. We can leave our backpacks at the alberque while we tour the city but we can´t collect them until noon. Then I think I´ll vote for a short walk in the afternoon to Rabe de las Calzados only 12kms out of Burgos.

Feet are aching, legs are tired and brain is not very creative but the laundry is done, the alberque is comfortable and clean and tomorrow promises to be a new and easier day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday, May 4 Redicilla del Camino to Villafranca Montes de Oca

Everyone at the alberque was up exceptionally early this morning, probably because we had all gone to bed at 8:30pm last night - not much in the way of fine dining and comaraderie in Redicilla. So we were off into a freezing, cold morning well before daylight.

As I said no fine dining or even a decent meal to be had. Last night we experienced our first truly inhospitable encounter (other than the weather of the first three days that is). Our alberque had a bar which did not serve food so we had to go to the ´restaurant/bar´ located on the one other street in the village. The senora who ran the bar was not a happy person. She was most difficult and unfriendly when I inquired about the peregrinos meal for the evening. When I asked if there was a supermercado she just kept waving her hand to the right and saying "Derecha! It is right there!" Nothing was there! With Dominigo´s help, I discovered that there was a store, a tienda right there, behind door number One. The tienda turned out to be basically a pantry stocked with bottles of wine, cartons of oranges, bananas and limes and a few boxes of lentils and rice. We decided to reserve for dinner. Now my Spanish has been definitely sufficient to order a meal but she was so hostile and had no patience with a vegetarian. "Okay, macaroni and ensalada. Fine!"

Things hadn´t lightened up when we came back at 6pm. Turns out what I had seen earlier was her happy face. Now there was an equally miserable senor helping out at the bar and, it appeared, watering down the wine. At first we were ignored but when John asked about the water and wine bit, the senor was more displeased - enajodo. He came out, slapped a paper tablecloth over the table and when I asked where the bathroom was he just burst out what seems like a Castillian curse and stomped away. I figure he was telling me, "If you needed a bathroom, you should have thought of that before you left Canada!" The senora begrudginly took me through the tienda (pantry) and showed me where the bathroom was and ordered me to turn out the light when I was done. Coming back through the pantry, I made the mistake of looking at the box of quick cooking lentils. Out comes the screaming senora yelling at me that I was here for dinner not shopping and that I should get out of the tienda (pantry) and into the restaurant where I belong. John was so disgusted he got up and walked out of the restaurant with Dayton right behind. Naturally I followed although my stomach was telling me that hunger trumps hostile and I wanted to eat. What we didn´t know was that in our magnificent exit, John had left behind his raincoat and hat. It´s a good thing a French Canadian girl, who was having a beer in the restaurant, was kind enough to bring it back to the alberque. It would have been more than a little humbling to have to go back to the restaurant to get John´s stuff.

The lady at the alberque was much more hospitable and helpful. She took pity on us poor hungry pilgrims, dug up a can of tomato sauce and a package of pasta and sent us up to the kitchen where we joined the line up of others waiting to cook, everyone holding their can of tomato sauce and their package of pasta. Apparently, we were not the only ones who ticked off or were ticked off by the local restauranteurs.

In the end we sat in the bar in front of a warming fire and had our fill of wine, bread and pasta. And we have another experience to remember. You just have to remember ´The Life of Brian´from Monty Python, always look on the bright side of life.

Back to today´s walk. It was the easiest yet for me. Twenty six kilometres along a fairly flat dirt road. None of the villages we went through were very attractive. Most were basically derelict although we did have a nice morning stop in Belorado, café con leche, téa, and our first patata tortilla.

We were the first to arrive at the alberque in Villafranca Montes de Oca and it looks promising. Spacious, cooking and cleaning facilities and a couple of bars nearby.

I do have to mention that I have become a little less conscientious with the laundry. If there´s a lavadora (washing machine) my clothers are wash and wear, if it´s just a sink they are wet and wear, if it´s cold they are are air and wear and sometimes, if it´s really cold, they are wear and wear and wear.

So off to find out how and what we are going to eat tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday, May 4 Azofra to Redicilla del Camino

Once again we were out into the dark morning at 6:30am and walked the first half hour along a rocky, dirt road with daylight creeping up over our shoulders. The terrain has certainly changed drastically over the last few days. The stony vineyards of Navarre changed first to the much richer clay soil of the La Rioja area and today we walked along and through the ´lush, verdant (always wanted to use that word) gently rolling farmlands. By 8:25am we had covered 9 1/2 kms to reach Cirueña walking past a golf course and a very new residential development with lots of vacation condos for sale. Still at 8:30am we saw only one person out and about. Spaniards do not appear to be ´morning people´.

In Cirueña, John went off the Camino track a couple of hundred metres to scout out a bar for the morning café con leche. As much as I appreciate a hot cup of té and the caffeine fix, my inclination is to not add one single extra step; just follow the path, no detours or sidebars. I mean 200m off the path means another 200m to get back onto it - now we´re talking half a mile! And we´re always running on empty. No breakfast and rarely any lunch. Except for some bananas and maybe nuts, we often don´t eat until dinner.

Leaving Cirueña, we met up again with a long-legged Basque gentleman called Txomin or Domingo in Spanish. The kilometres to Santo Domingo de Calzada just flew by as I tried to keep up with him and we conversed with my very elementary Spanish. I manage to cover all the Camino niceties; "Where are you from? Where are you going? Where did you start? How long do you think it will take you?" I can share information about family, friends and jobs and that´s about it. I can also buy groceries and find out directions to the bars and restaurants. What more can you ask of 18 months of Spanish classes? I did manage to use my Spanish to commandeer Domingo into helping John finally acquire that elusive phone card for the Spanish phone someone had given him in Canada. We´ll find out when he call Linda tonight if it works. By the way, this was another 200m. detour worth it.

We left Txomin in Santo Domingo and started towards Grañon 7km ahead stopping only to put on backpack covers and raincoats as it started to rain. Walked half the way to Grañon with a German economics major from the University of Bonn. He was walking in running shoes as he had blisters. Still, he was walking faster than me. Total today was 26 kms and my feet really know it.

The Alberque in Redicilla del Camino is by donation so we registered and paid 5Euros each. The rooms are above a very sparse basic bar, 6 bunk beds end to end in each room but separate showers so there´s that small blessing again. It´s gotten quite cold but another blessing is that they have a fire going in the bar. I may be hungry but I´ll be warm.

I can also manage to read a lot of the graffiti and much of it is related to the Camino. One I saw yesterday was ´La vida es un camino´. Life is a camino. I would edit it and remind myself and others that ´Su vida es su camino´, that your life is your camino. It´s all you have so enjoy. Now if my tired feet and legs would only buy into this.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday May 3rd Navarette to Azofra

Last night´s refugio requested that pilgrims not leave until 7am so we got a little later start today. We got away about 6:50am and for the first time I started the morning without my fleece. It turned out to be a warm morning. The first part of the day was along a gravel road which parralled a major highway. Because it was Sunday, nothing was open in the first town we came to, Ventosa, so we kept plodding along another 11kms to Najera. It looked liked we were going to miss out again here but, after stocking up on fruit at the first market store we got to, we crossed the main bridge and we were rewarded with the sight of glistening metal chairs being set outside a bar right onto the sidewalk by the river. Café con leche and mini bocadillas made for a great breakfast, desayuno, for Dayton and John. This time the bocadillas were scrambled eggs with chili peppers or the traditional tortilla patatas. Heaven.

Another great suprise awaited us when, just as we were leaving the town, we came upon an open market and kind of medieval fiesta; jewellry and food stands and mock fights in the manner of medieval times. Then it was up the hill and out of town towards Azofra.

The walk into Azofra was amazing. A fairly large group of pilgrims, all well ahead of me as usual, were walking along the paved road and, in the distance, the church bells pealed for 30 minutes,
welcoming us into the town. In the centre of town was a big fiesta for the Feast of La Cruza. The men were cooling wine bottles in the water of the fountain in the square. Platters of chorizo, olives, chips and cheese were set out on tables in the plaza and it was noisy and festive. We, foolishly, headed straight for the alberque to ensure getting a bed but, even though we missed the fiesta, the alberque turned out to be another treat.

The alberque at Azofra is another spacious, well appointed (for the Camino that is), refugio where all the rooms are double so Dayton and I got to share our own room. Now if there is snoring I can reach over and nudge the snorer to roll over and shut up. We´ve done a major laundry so every single piece of clothing we´ve brought is clean and dry. Up to now ´wash and wear´has really meant ´wet and wear´and sometimes it means áir and wear.

After all the washing and showers, we went into town and bought groceries for dinner. Dayton and John are going to make a pasta, tomato, garlic, red pepper and chorizo dish and we´ve got vegetables for a salad. And by vegetables, I mean lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I don´t know where all the vegetables we see at the supermarcados go but they never show up in a pilgrims´meal. We´re teaming resources with a German couple. Dayton and John are muy buen cocineros - good cooks.

I´m getting acclimatized to the communal living but only happy with the wining, dining and visiting part of it, not the sharing the showers and dorm part.

However, we are, at the moment, contented pilgrims and we welcome what the Camino has in store for us tomorrow. Hmmm, and hope it´s nice, dry, even terrain and not 40kms.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 2 - Walking Pace

Everyone´s walking style is different and everyone has to set their own pace on the Camino. Next time I come on the Camino I´m bringing longer legs. When I start showing my Camino pictures all anyone is going to see are pictures of John and Dayton´s backpacks and backsides . I´m usually at least 100m behind, okay make that several hundred kilometres behind, although they do look back a lot to check on me. In some ways it´s good to be in the quiet back of the pack. There´s lots of time for thinking and some times too much time for feeling - things like tired legs and sore feet.
John has so much energy and is a determined walker. I knew he was a fast walker but I never appreciated how fast. Just put his backpack on him, wind him up, let him go and he´s off. Dayton has a long stride so he covers a lot of territory trudging along and he´s heroically carrying the heaviest pack, helping me out. Me, I am what I am and I´m doing the best that I can. However, we are usually among the first to arrive at an alberque so I guess I´m not holding them up too much.
Today we walked from Torres del Rio to Navarette. It was a long 34 kms. We left at 6:45am just as the cock crowed (seriously!). It was dark and cool but clear. I knew it was going to be a clear day because, when I got up in the middle of the night and had to go outside through the courtyard to get to the facilities, the sky was peppered with stars. Very promising.
It was an 11km walk into Viana which looked like a rough town but we found a taberna which was abierta so the café and té were appreciated. The walk into Logroño was industrial and tedious. We got there around 11am but it took almost two hours to cross the city. John went off on his own to find a phone card for his Spanish phone. This is turning into his every big city chore and so far has not been successful. Dayton continues to make sacrifices for me as, when I needed a bathroom and the owner would only let clients use the facilities, Dayton ordered a cervaza even though it was only 11:30am. What a guy!
The refugio in Navarette was run by French hospitaleros and was situated between two bars so, once again no complaints. Let me amend that. No complaints until the lovely French couple who shared our ´dorm´snored all night!!!.

May 1 Small Blessings

There´s never an easy day on the Camino. Some days are easier than others but none is easy and so one begins to give thanks for small blessings. The morning may be cool and you might need a fleece, jacket, gloves and hat but it´s better to wear the warm clothing than carry them and so that´s a blessing. That first morning climb may be steep and the breathing laboured but at least it´s not in a blizzard (like the Pyrenees), a much appreciated blessing. The descent may be dangerously steep but it´s a blessing that it´s not muddy today. The alberque may not be spacious and it may be crowded but at least we got a bed for the night - a blessing when you count the number of pilgrims who arrived too late only to find the alberque full for the night.
The pilgrim´s menu may not be fine cuisine but it´s filling and that´s a blessing. The walk might have been too long today but thankfully it´s a walk without injuries, a blessing. The backpack might be heavy but it is what it is and by now everything in it is needed. Well, almost everything.

I am so grateful for many of the things I brought and the choices I made in preparing my gear. Some of the things that have worked out great and which have been most appreciated might seem surprising. I´ve really made good use of the leggings and the extra light weight Under Armour tshirt I brought. None of the refugios are heated nor do they offer any sense of privacy so the leggings and tshirt have been great not only for warmth but so than I´m not running around in my underwear. My thin camisole and long sleeve tshirt have been great for layering for warmth. I may not look great at night after my lukewarm shower but I´m sure making use of the layered look. I´ve worn everything I brought except my hiking shorts and I´m sure they will not be superfluous later in the month when the weather gets warmer. My boots have been great although after 34kms my feet are hot and tired - but at least they are not blistered and so that´s a blessing. I couldn´t have done without two hiking sticks. The nylon backpack I brought has worked out great at night as I dump my camera, journal, money and passports, maps and glasses in it and then next morning the whole thing gets crammed into my big pack. My backpack has also been pretty good. It would be better if it weighed less but I can´t think of anything I´d leave behind except maybe one pair of socks and a couple of toiletries. And it´s nice to go to sleep at night with our pillows wrapped in our kids childhood pillowcases. Just a nice comforting reminder of our loved ones.

Today, we went from Ayegui to Torres del Rio. It was another quick predaylight start and within 20 minutes we were at the Fuente de Vino at the church in Irache. This is where there is a wine font right in the church wall. John and Dayton had the traditional drink of wine but I found 6:50am just a little early to be drinking so I filled my extra water bottle saving it for later. This morning´s walk was again along lovely dirt roads which, for the most part, were level. John and Dayton could really stride out. I managed to catch up with them every now and then by running on the downslopes.

In Los Arcos we had another Camino moment when we found a great bar where the guys had café con leche and bocadillas which are Spanish sandwiches on big baguettes. One bocadillas was with tortillas patatas (like a scalloped potato/egg dish) and the other was with chorizo sausage. After Los Arcos, we came to Sansol which was a beautiful town at the top of a hill, which actually all towns seems to be - at the top of a hill. Then it was a steep descent into Torres del Rio. What a gem! We were fortunate to be among the first 6 to arrive, just like being in the Amazing Race. We were happy with our prize which was a bed for the night. Those who arrived later were out of luck. We had a great dinner at the local restaurant with the other 36 pilgrims.

Thursday, April 30: Today is a Gift

Ayer es historia.
Manaña es misteria.
Hoy es un regalo.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. Today was gloriosa.

It was so easy to get organized and to get out early this morning because the Refugio Santiago Apostol where we stayed just outside of Puente La Reine was so spacious. At 5:45am we took our packs and gear out into the massive common room and had them packed and on our backs and ready to go before 6:30am. Our get out the door time gets better each day as we are starting to perfect our system. And, just in case anyone thinks we´re rushing things, it should be noted that we are rarely the first to leave. And I know why, the early hours of the morning are the best time to walk.

We left the refugio before daylight walking out into the dark, shadowy morning, crossing the silent streets of the still sleeping pueblo and heading out onto the natural dirt paths which were to take us through the serene country farmlands. It was nice to have the morning to ourselves and there was finally such a sense of being a pilgrim. The chill in the air felt more inviting than threatening and we´ve learned that it´s only ever chilly until the first steep climb of the morning, which always comes early. Just like the game Rock, Paper, Scissors, hill beats chill everytime and it´s not long before we´re sweating. Puente La Reina looked a little weary when we passed through it yesterday but every town we came to today stuck out of the hilly farmlands like a picture perfect postcard. Mañeru, Cirauqui, Lorca and Villatuerta; each one more picturesque than the one before. Finding a taberna for an midday café con leche, pastel and té is always a treat and we were rewarded with a great spot in Villafuerta.

We walked 22km to Ayegui which is just on the outskirts of Estrella. We decided to stop there as the next possibilty was more than 10km on and was described as basic. The alberque in Ayegui was in a big community sports complex. It had all the amenities we needed with the bonus of watching the girls´ netball teams practice and then the men´s indoor soccer team play. This bonus wore a little thin when they were still yelling, cheering and pounding away at 10pm. Dinner was a treat. There was a cafe in the sports complex with a gruff restauranteur, and I´m being complimentary, calling him that. His manner of service, was fill it up, slap it down, eat it up and shut up. I had a great salad but Dayton and John´s sopa was packaged Lipton´s chicken noodle soup. My spaghetti with tomato sauce was really spaghettios and their chicken was basically thin chicken McNuggets. Thank goodness for wine although I´m sure this wine was so young it still had toe jam in it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Now this is what I´ve been talking about!

Wednesday, April 29

Now this was the Camino day we envisioned when we did all our planning. We left our refugio just as the morning light was struggling through the overcast sky. Not an auspicious start, as we took an immediate wrong turn in the gardens of the refugio, but we managed to find the exit and we were on on way through the quiet streets of Cizor Menor.

Even though the start of this day was a huge climb of 790m. up to Alto de Perdon, it was on an easy pathway and it was rewarded with wonderful views of the countryside. It was exciting to reach the much anticipated site of the famous metal sculpture of Camino pilgrims. We descended down a country path to the small town of Uterga where we had another Camino first; our first real café stop. We had café con leches, té, tasty pastries, and the waitress kindly agreed to mail our postcards. Perfect! After that it was an easy walk to Eunate where there is an 11th century hexagon church thought to be built originally for the Knights of the Order of Jerusalem. (I´ll perfect my historical references later). Then we walked on to Puente La Reina. To get to our alberque for the night, we had to trudge up a steep hill for 350kms but it seems worth it; lots of space, separate mens´and womens´hot showers, laundry facilities and a bar. Knees are better and quads have gone from total spasms to a dull ache. Can´t ask for more.

I did have a small epiphany today when it came to me that that perhaps the reason pilgrims who complete the Camino are promised a bit of a dispensation from their time in Purgatory is because they have done penance enough and suffered enough on their Camino.

So we´re good for another day. I´ve re-packed the reservation phone number for Air Canada that I was sure two days ago I was going to use to move up our departure date and I´m looking forward to what tomorrow brings.


I just realized that I haven´t been posting where we are on our Camino so this blog will log in where we are at the end of each day and I´ll update it as computer access is available. I´ll post date, hiking day, departure place and arrival destination, actual distance walked and the distance equivalent when adjusted for cumulative climb (like the wind chill factor) for hikers.

Day 1. Saturday, April 25 - St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson
8 kms, (11kms)11:00 am to 1:30pm, RAIN
Day 2.Sunday, April 26 - Orisson to Roncesvalles
17kms, (23kms) 8:00am to 1:15pm, BLIZZARD
Day 3. Monday, April 27 - Roncevalles to Larrasoana
27.7kms, (29kms) 7:00am to 2:30pm, MUD
Day 4. Tuesday, April 28 - Larrasoana thru Pamplona to Cizur Menor
21.2kms, (23kms) 6:55am to 1:45pm LITTLE RAIN & SUN
Day 5. Wednesday, April 29 - Cizur Menor to Puente La Reina
19.6kms, (21.3kms) 6:45am to 2:00pm CLEAR DAY
Day 6. Thursday, April 30 - Puente La Reina to Ayegui (Estella)
22kms, (23.5kms) 6:45am to 1:15pm GLORIOUS DAY
Day 7. Friday, May 1 - Ayegui to Torres del Rio
27km (29.59kms) 6:30am to 1:30pm CLEAR DAY
Day 8. Saturday, May 2 - Torres del Rio thru Logroño to Navarette
34.5kms. (36kms) 6:25am to 2:45pm CLEAR DAY, LONG!
Day 9. Sunday, May 3 - Navarette to Azofra
24kms (24.5kms) 6:50am to 12:30pm SUNNY, WARM
Day 10. Monday, May 4 - Azofra to Redicilla del Camino
26kms (27.5kms) 6:30am to 1:30pm LIGHT RAIN
Day 11. Tuesday, May 5 - Redicilla del Camino to Villafranca Montes de Oca
26kms (27kms) 6:25am to 11:45am COLD, CLEAR, SUNNY
Day 12. Wednesday, May 6 - Villafranca Montes de Oca to Burgos!
39.2kms (42.7) + 5kms wandering 6:20am to 4:30pm HOT, SUNNY
Day 13. Thursday, May 7 - Burgos to Hornillas del Camino
20kms (20.7) 8:10am to 12:30pm HOT, SUNNY
Day 14. Friday, May 8 - Hornillas to Castrojeriz
21.2kms (22.4) 6:30am to 11:10am HOT, SUNNY
Day 15. Saturday, May 9 - Castrojeriz to Fromista
25.5kms (26.7) 6:32am to 12:45pm HOT, SUNNY
Day 16. Sunday, May 10 - Fromista to Carrión de los Condes
20.1kms (20.3) 6:36 to 11:40am WARM, SUNNY
Day 17. Monday, May 11 - Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios
26.8 kms (27kms) 6:25am to 12:15pm WARM, OVERCAST, HINT OF RAIN
Day 18. Tuesday, May 12 - Terradillos de los Templarios to Bercianos Real Camino
23.5kms (23.5kms) 6:30am - 12:15pm OVERCAST
Day 19. Wednesday, May 13 - Bercianos Real Camino to Villarente
33.7kms (33.5kms) 6:30am - 2:15pm WARM, SUNNY, COOL BREEZE
Day 20. Thursday, May 14 - Villarente through Leon to Mazarife
35kms (35kms) 6:30am - 3:30pm COLD, WINDY AND LATER SUNNY
Day 21. Friday, May 15 - Mazarife to Astorga
31kms (32kms) 6:30am - 2:10pm FREEZING, WINDY, COLD, SUNNY
Day 22. Saturday, May 16 - Astorga to Foncebadón
27kms ( 31kms) 6:30am - 1:30pm WARM, SUNNY
Day 23. Sunday, May 17 - Foncebadón to Ponferrada
29kms (33kms) 6:45am - 1:45pm FREEZING START, SUNNY
Day 24. Monday, May 18 - Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo
24.5kms (25kms) 6:45am- 2:25pm
Day 25. Tuesday, May 19 - Villafranca del Bierzo to O´Cebreiro
31km (38kms)6:40am-2:43pm HOT, SUNNY, toughest day, SPECTACULAR
Day 26. Wednesday, May 20 - O´Cebreiro to Samos
32.4kms (33.4kms) 6:30am - 2:15pm HOT, SUNNY, BEAUTIFUL
Day 27. Thursday, May 21 - Samos to Ferreiros
26.9kms (27.9kms) 6:30am-2:15pm OVERCAST, HUMID
Day 28. Friday, May 22 - Ferreiros to Palas de Rei
35.5kms (39.2kms) 6:30am - 2:45pm HOT, SUNNY
Day 29. Saturday, May 23 - Palas de Rei to Arzúa
29.4kms (30.4kms) 6:40am - 1:30am HOT, THUNDER, RAIN, SUNNY -EVERYTHING
Day 30. Sunday, May 24 - Arzúa to Arca
20kms (20kms) 6:40am - 11:40am OVERCAST, RAIN JUST AT ARCA
Day 31. Monday, May 25 - Arca to Santiago
20.6kms (21.2kms) 6:20 - 11:05am RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN

Day 32 . Wednesday, May 27 - Santiago to Negreira
22.4kms (25.6kms) 6:35am - 12:55pm HOT, SUNNY
Day 33. Thursday, May 28 - Negreira to Olveiroa
33.1 + 3 (38.8kms) 6:40am - 2:50pm HOT, HOT, SUNNY
Day 34. Friday, May 29 - Olveiroa to Fisterre
31.2kms (33.7kms) 6:17am - 1:10pm HOT, SUNNY (Dayton only)