Buckingham Palace areaJune 3, 2017 in the United Kingdom
We arrived in Santiago on May 31st, 9 days earlier than when we estimated we'd arrive, and went straight to the Pilgrim mass at the renowned Cathedral that probably does not have the remains of St James, but one of the locals from the same time period. The cathedral was packed with smelly and elated pilgrims (us included) and the incensed from the bottafumeria ("smoke belcher") was put to good use, to our delight. We ran into our friends, Jaime and Claire, from England, and shared a prolonged lunch with them and other Camino pals at a local restaurant in the old part of the city.
The Camino has been tough, and, generally, good for me. I've been able to do some introspecting and I've set a deadline by which to finish the full first draft of the ya sci fi book I've been working on for forever. It felt great to pick a date (Sept 1). I'm a fairly goal oriented person so am feeling very motivated by this.
It's interesting to know that I don't have to wake up early and set off on a 15 to 20 miles journey with a 20lbs pack on my back. Pilgrimage is a straightforward way to live, and there's something about the simplicity of it that makes it compelling. While we aren't part of that group of pilgrims that complete the Camino only to turn around and do it all again, in reverse, the idea of doing another way, perhaps in France, at some point in the future (once our feet have healed) is not out of the question.Read more
Our longest day yet, we traveled for 8 hours, 21.6 miles, with 2,200 ft elevation gain. Tom made his goal of 50,000 steps and we both collapsed at the albergue when we arrived. Incongruent with our depleted state, the albergue was full of energy. A family with small children and a group of teens and tweens ran about, giggling and bashing into things.
We sat on the outdoor patio with the Uruguayan brothers and their wives and chatted and laughed as the sun set. They began the Camino around the same time as us and we've been crossing paths since early in the Meseta. We will agreed that it feels bitter sweet that the Camino is nearly over. I can't quite believe that we'll be in Santiago tomorrow.Read more
A rainy 17 mile journey through verdant forests and crumbling villages brought us to the town of Melide, a hub of commerce during the middle ages. It's population of 7,824 feels huge after our multiple stays in places with < 100 population. Two days from now, we should be arriving in Santiago, it feels simultaneously too soon and not soon enough. We'll have another night in an albergue, surrounded by fellow pilgrims. This albergue boasts a renovated kitchen and grassy outdoor space. We take advantage of both, eating lunch and hanging out in the garden, scheduling our next day's accommodations and reading as our laundry washes.Read more
This journey has had many high points and, as any good pilgrimage should, it's fair share of low points. Today held both. We woke to learn of an emergency at La Maison and spent the morning bleary eyed, putting out fires (thankfully, not literal fires). We got a bit of a late start and skipped breakfast but the situation was (mostly) under control when we left.
The weather report called for heavy rains and thunder storms, neither of which were appealing, especially given that we had a 20 mile hike ahead of us... and what a hike it turned out to be with 2,500 ft elevation gain. Luckily, while it looked like the sky would open up at any moment, it didn't rain on us and we peeled out raingear off a few miles in.
We arrived at albergue O'cruceiro in record time for the distance (3.1 mph) and collapsed in our double bed. It's the first time we've had a room to ourselves in a few days and we took full advantage of the quiet by napping. When we awoke, we were excited to find that the restaurant attached to the albergue (there are no grocery stores in tiny places like this) was willing to serve us food before 7pm, win!!Read more
The route today took us through more lush forest, it feels like such a treat after the Meseta. We are becoming more and more confident that we will make it to Santiago. It's a great feeling. We've seen many people become too injured or ill to continue on foot and we feel like the lucky ones in that we've come so far with no serious injuries. One of the sayings on the Camino is that pain is a part of the way. Pain has a way of keeping me in the present moment, so I try to think of it as a gift. It was tough to maintain that philosophical outlook after I had a tangle with a stinging nettle bush today.
We met up with our English friends, Jaime and Claire, for second breakfast again. We shared our post Camino plans to visit London with them and they invited us to look them up when we arrived. We spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and reading in the outdoor garden with a spectacular view of the countryside.Read more
We had a wet 16 mile jaunt across glorious, blossoming mountains to the town of Triacastela, which marked our transition into the last region on the Camino, Galicia. Galicia is known as the country of a thousand rivers and has a high average rainfall. The rain again today was cooling which felt good as uphill hiking made us overwarm. While not so light as yesterday's rain, it never felt gloomy as we hiked (later in the day came thunder, lightning and heavy, grey clouds). Spring is in it's full glory here and we've been delighted to see so many baby farm animals (ponies, calves, kids and kittens).
During second breakfast, we met a British couple and felt an immediate connection with them. We met them again at our lunch spot and exchanged warm greetings when they arrived at the Complexo Xacobeo, the albergue we're staying in this evening.
Tomorrow, we are going to pass through Sarria, which was Tom's last stop on his previous Camino. Ten years ago, he traveled from Astorga to Sarria in 10 days, this time around we are competing the same distance in 6 days. Sarria happens to be 100 kilometers from Santiago, which is the minimum distance one must complete in order to receive a Compostela.
A Compostela is a certificate (in Latin) declaring thst the pilgrim completed the journey for religious or spiritual reasons. A myth persists that the Compostela is like an indulgence in that it decreases the pilgrims time in purgatory by 50%. Whether it's for this reason that so many people begin their journey at Sarria or simply because they have less time to spend traveling, I'm not sure, but it is the case that the number of pilgrims on the way grows significantly beginning from Sarria to Santiago. We've begun booking beds a day or so in advance to ensure we have a place to stay each night.Read more
We conquered the Camino Duro (the hard way) today. It's an alternate path that some pilgrims take to avoid the highway walking of the regular route and leads straight up into the mountains. It felt so much like a Santa Barbara hike along Camino Cielo that I was overcome with happiness (and, if I'm honest, a bit of homesickness). We seemed to be the only ones who opted for this more arduous trek and the quiet, isolation gave the experience a very special feeling. All told, we went 16+ miles and gained about 2,800 ft elevation.
Tucked into the mountain was a tiny village and we stopped at Cafe Lama, which sells hazelnut bread that uses local hazelnuts, (we got extra slices to take with us). They also had kittens. 😻It began raining for the last few miles, but it was a soft rain that helped keep us cool.
We stayed at the German hostel and when we checked in the German volunteer said there were a lot of Americans staying tonight. He then paused, and, completely deadpan, said "I wonder if you are all running from Trump." Great delivery. 👏🏻 We had dinner at the hippy, vegetarian place down there street (apparently, these two are always paired on the Camino). Then read and cuddled before falling asleep. There were no snorers in our room!!Read more
Instead of staying a second night in Ponferrada, we skipped our scheduled rest day and pushed onward, to Villafranca. As we were leaving, we ran into two other pilgrims who were a bit lost. It's somewhat confusing to leave a big city as the signs aren't always obvious. The four of us banded together and, with Tom in the lead, managed to find our way back onto the path. We walked with them, Michael, from France, and a young woman from Australia, for the first five miles. The trek lasted 17 miles and was mostly uphill, and often along a narrow edge of a regularly used road (a bit at odds with our guide book). Tom had great success with his new sandals and we believe his feet have made a turning point for the good!
We arrived into the city and headed for the cloister turned albergue, the Convento de Los Padres Paules, where we had booked a double room. We made a trip to the grocery store then sat in the courtyard to read and relax. I thought about how, prior to being on the camino, I had this naïve idea about how many miles I would want up walk each day and how many rest days we'd need. I had thought 12 miles a day (15 miles max) would be ideal but, in actuality, we are comfortable walking 16 - 18 miles each day and have taken less rest days than I expected. I chatted with Tom about it and we think the lesson in this is that it's hard to forecast what will make you happy.Read more
Tom was excited to see the sunrise at the Cruz De Ferro so we quitely slipped out of our shared Albergue room before daybreak around 5:30am. We were two of the first to arrive at the Iron Cross and set our stones down in the quiet, predawn.
The last time Tom did this stretch, the Templar castle in Ponferrada was closed. Due to some careful planning, we arrived on our anniversary and after checking into our double room at a modern Albergue, we headed to the castle. Luckily, much of the notes were translated into English and I got to nerd out on 12th century, Templar history.
We've come 350 miles and the path has taken it's toll on Tom's feet. During this trek he had to break 4-5 times you adjust the bandages on his blisters. We're entering mountainous terrain, which we are both quite excited about. Tom found a shoe store and bought a new pair of sandals so, fingers crossed, Tom's feet sitch will get sorted. 🤞🏻Read more