Book Reviews

Starting later this month (September 2017), I will begin a 6 month project of short book reviews of the books listed on the resource page of my website. First one:

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

Stay tuned!!

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 1: The road to Pamplona

The Beginning: On March 1, we flew overnight from DC to Madrid. Jim and Clara took a direct flight to Madrid and then took a bus into the city to pick up the rental car. Aidan, Charlotte and I flew into Frankfurt and then to Madrid.

We then drove up to the Northern coast of Spain/France in the Basque town of Irun/Hendaye. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the beach and then slept at a local hotel. We returned the car at the Irun Airport and then took a taxi to the train station in Hendaye. We took the Paris train north and got off in Bayonne, switched to a small train car headed to St. Jean Pied de Port. So we arrived in the late afternoon of March 3rd and headed to the pilgrim office to get our pilgrim passports stamped and check into ourfirst albergue (pilgrim hostel).  Such a beautiful and ancient, quaint French village, we were pinching ourselves! We shared the first night at the hostel with about 20 other people from a variety of countries including Germany, Korea, England, Canada and Italy.

 

The road to Roncesvalles: It was a beautiful morning and we bought some french bread loaves and headed up into the Pyrenees.

The higher mountain pass was closed because of the snow, which was fine with us. We were happy with the Valcarlos route. The first half of our first day was magical. We got a little lost but soon learned to be more vigilant about looking for the markers along the way. The views were spectacular. The sheep looked like they were velcroed to the sides of the mountains. The sun was shining, we climbed up and up and up. And we walked into Spain! We ended up spending much of the day with Suhe from Korea. We enjoyed her company, but later felt bad for including her in some of our bad decisions. We should have stayed in Valcarlos and taken the rest of the mountain the next day, but we were having such a great day, we went on. We also ended up taking a trail that was closed, but we misunderstood the map. As the afternoon passed, it got colder, windier and snowier. We ended up climbing straight up in snow for hours. We were exhausted and hungry and very angry. We limped into Roncesvalles at about 7 pm. Our first night at an albergue after a day of hiking was quite an experience. There was only one albergue open so it was full, although some people had arrived by bus. People were taking showers, washing their clothes, and eating dinner. There were about 30 people there. We all went to bed early!

Road to Viskarret: This was a rainy day and we were very sore and tired. But we made a yummy discovery at breakfast: Empanada de Atún! It was very hilly and we had a hard time staying motivated. We were in a lot of pain and the rain was cold and constant. Many potential restaurant stops were still closed for winter. We took a picture of the trail that got washed out. We decided to stay at the next place we found with lodging. We found a restaurant open in Viskarret and the owner made a few calls. A local woman opened up her Albegue for us! We were so grateful! She even drove Jim to the local grocery store so he could buy groceries and use the ATM. So nice. We were a bit cold, but the living room had a fireplace. It was nice to have some time to relax and reflect and take baths!

The road to Larrasoaña: The morning was drizzly and cold but Jim made eggs and coffee and we headed out at about 9 am, luxury! We had to stay on the road for the first two hours because of the snow but then we were able to take the pilgrim trail that headed up into the beautiful wooded mountains with amazing views! The sun came out and we were really enjoying the day, though sore and hungry. We had lunch in Zubiri, a very cute riverside village with a beautiful stone bridge. There were a lot of locals at the restaurant and we had fun getting to hear from them about all pilgrims that come through. Then we headed back out, that was pretty hard, we were still quite sore! We wandered out of the town and through some industrial sections of town. It actually got hot and sunny. We had to put sunscreen on. We had one last rest stop before the final 5 kms to our destination. Charlotte took the artsy picture of our shoes airing out while we gave ourselves foot massages. This is something we tried to do at the halfway point each day. We didn’t keep it up toward the end of the walk but we should have. We ended up getting into Larrasoaña at about 4 pm. This was a state run Albergue with very few amenities. But it had beds and a kitchen and nearby a grocery store that opened at 5 pm. Jim made pasta and we reconnected with Andrea, a Brazilian woman who lives in Canada, and also we met Sven from Germany and Henry from England. Another early to bed night!

The road to Pamplona: We ate leftover spagetti and headed out around 6:30 am. I took a bad fall on the stone steps of the albergue on the way out. It could have been really bad, but I landed on my pack and only ended up with a deep bruise on my forearm. We made another error on this morning. We miscalculated and ended having to walk 11.3 kilometers before reaching any food. But it was a beautiful11 kms! Not too hilly and the weather was very nice. But we were “hangry” by the time we stopped for lunch in the lovely city of Trinidad de Arre. At a local bar (restaurant) we ran into Sven and Henry again, they introduced us to a guy from Scotland (full on kilt and highlander beard, awesome!), a young Irishman and two Spanish women. They left for Pamplona while we were still gobbling down our bocadillos (sandwiches). The rest of the day’s walk was pretty much through the suburbs of Pamplona. It was very pretty and the city feel was something new for us on the Camino. We were pretty exhausted as we came to the bridge at the edge of the city, but still managed to smile for the camera. Pamplona was just what we needed, it is a charming walled city with beautiful buildings and friendly people. Aidan fell in love with it. After we checked into the municipal albergue in the center of the city, Jim and Aidan went exploring. The girls and I enjoyed the laundry facility, the hot showers and the time to read/journal. We were hoping to catch up with Suhe again, I had one of her socks from the laundry in Roncesvalles, but she wasn’t among the 30 or so pilgrims at this albergue. It was a raining pretty hard, but the city was still magical!

So, after 4 days of hiking and 70.5 kilometers (43.8 miles), we rested our weary heads with smiles on our faces. Thankful for health, for each other and for the Camino!

Stay tuned, more posts to come . . .

 

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 2: The road to Estella

We woke up in the wonderful Albergue in Pamplona after a night of thunderstorms and intense rain. But the morning was dry and beautiful. All the pilgrim’s headed out at about 7 am, just in time for coffee and a bite to eat. All our friends from the previous day had stayed at this Albergue. There were about 20 of us that headed down the street together, a sight the city is quite used to. Clara’s pain in her leg was worsening and we had to decide whether to see a doctor here in the big city or take it slow and see how it does. We decided to carry on. The walk out of Pamplona was as beautiful as the walk in. The city was waking up and heading to work and school. We followed the silver markers on the ground past the University and out to the suburbs, slowly climbing up. It was sunny and there were even some buds beginning to open up. At a bakery on the way out, we were stopped by an older man and asked about our pilgrimage. He had done it years ago and was thrilled we were doing it all together. He wished us Buen Camino as we left. This happened all the time, everywhere we went. At this point, we were still following a daily liturgy morning, afternoon and evening. We also told family stories as we walked. This day was filled with singing and stories of our lives before we had children.  We climbed and climbed and had our first stop in Cizur Menor. We stopped to get food for the road and use the facilities. While waiting for each other to finish our errands at a little park in the center of town, up walked Suhe! I gave her back her sock I’d had since day 2. She had stayed at a different Albergue in Pamplona all by herself! We spent most of the day walking with her. At different points in the day, we shared the trail with many local Spaniards out for runs or walking their dogs. We enjoyed clementines in the sun and clementine peel fights. We got to hear a lot of Suhe’s story. She had quit her job at a pharmaceutical company to spend a month re-evaluating her life while walking the Camino. She had come with friends, but they had gotten ahead of her. She enjoyed the time with our family, but was a bit melancholy. I learned later in the day that it was her Dad’s birthday and she really missed him. She was the oldest of three kids, two girls and then a boy. Her family was a lot like ours. And when Jim carried Clara’s backpack for a while because of her pain, it reminded her of a camping trip when her father carried her on his back when she got injured. She was very sad to miss his birthday. We were so happy to have each other’s company. We stopped for a rest in Zariquiegui. There was an amazing view back over Pamplona, now tiny in the distance down below, rolling meadows and the remnants of a castle. The walk all the way up to Alto del Perdón is long and grueling. In March it is quite muddy and slippery. It goes on and on, up and up. But we had beautiful weather and great company. Magnificent! Once finally up at the very top, with the whir of the Windmills overhead, we got cold very quickly. It is very windy and cold. And there is a road right there at the top! What? No fair, everyone should have to climb it! The iconic Camino sculpture is very fun to interact with. We had our lunch in the wind while chatting with an eccentric local man and some friendly pilgrims going in the opposite direction. We took pictures and celebrated our accomplishment. So fun. But then we had to go down. The trail down is steep and filled with rocks. You have to watch your step and your speed, too fast and you could break your ankle. Now we were hot again. It was quite sunny. Down, down, down dang, the knees! By the time we had fully descended, we were very ready for our next Albergue. The only choice in Uterga, was a privately owned restaurant/albergue, it was expensive, but we needed food and rest. After we checked in, we headed upstairs and found Suhe’s two travelling companions chilllin’ in the living room! A happy reunion, I could tell she was relieved to be speaking Korean again. What a great day!

The next day we got up early and headed out, the Albergue had no breakfast, but there was a cafe con leche machine. It was outside. It was foggy and cold, there were cats hoping for some food. No luck. We headed out to the next village in search of food, knowing that our muscles and joints would not be as tested as they had been yesterday. A local woman pulled up along side us in her car to tell us the Camino trail was flooded and dangerous, so we went on the street. It was foggy and had dangers of it’s own. But the scenery was beautiful, what we could make out through the fog. (Clara has some nice photos of this walk, she will be posting separately later). The next town was Muruzábal, we were very ready for a break and some food, but the town was asleep. We walked and walked in the fog along the street, now we were in a lot of pain and getting very done with this whole walking business. Finally we came to a road sign indicating we were at Óbanos. But it was still foggy and we couldn’t figure out which way the city actually was. As it turns out, it was straight up, of course! But it was worth it! What a charming and beautiful village. We enjoyed the local bar (again, restaurant) and the beautiful town square with it’s Church and square. We found some great acoustics in one of the alcoves of the church and practiced our harmonies. Then we walked out of the village and back on the pilgrim path. Another nice day, the sun peaking out now and then. As we came to the outskirts of Puenté la Réina, we saw the first of many stork (?) nests perched high up in a silo of some kind and then another in the bell tower of the seminary. Clara took a lot of wonderful pictures of this beautiful medieval town.  We stopped to buy some bread and cookies at the farmer’s market, the local shops had a lot of pilgrim paraphernalia, at inflated prices too. We walked across the iconic bridge and found the trail ahead was closed because parts had been washed out in the rain. We had to take a busy street again. Actually, we made a wrong turn because we didn’t understand the freeway sign and ended up getting over the next mountain by the freeway. We were told by police to get off, but had made it by then. We had our lunch at a little park in Mañeru and then walked through glorious, rolling vineyards and olive groves until we came to the base of another city on a hill, Cirauqui. The Albergue wasn’t yet opened, so we rested in the shade of the church across the street. Jim had a painful blister that needed tending to and Clara was still having a lot of pain with every step. We decided to stop in Estella the next day and have her looked at. The Albergue was another privately run one, it was very nice and had a restaurant in the basement. There was a lovely 2nd floor porch, you can almost see in the picture, where the sink for hand washing clothes and the clothesline was. Beautiful mountain views all around, spectacular! This is the middle of the wine country in the region of Navarra. Jim and I went to the evening service there at the church in Cirauqui that night. Lovely.

We left the next morning and almost forgot one of our chargers, the owner of the Albergue came running down the cobblestone road to get it to us. So nice. On an hillside nearby, someone had created a huge map of the world made out of used tires. Clara got a picture of that. The trail was old stone and mud and is some of the oldest remaining sections of the old Roman road on the Camino. Not much fun to walk on though. The road continues to climb and is slippery and muddy this time of year. We had another nice day of Spring weather, cool but sunny, and followed vineyard, olive groves and cemeteries.  The first village we came to, Lorca, had very little to offer except a lot of steep climbs. At the far end of town was a shop that was sort of open. We managed to get some bread and cheese. We rested at the little table in the parking lot and that is when we had our first encounter with Kujin, but we didn’t actually meet him until much later. We met Bruno from Switzerland too. We finally made it to a bigger city, Villatuerta Puente, where we could get food, money and take a break before entering into Estella. Three notable things happened in Villatuerta Puente, we walked through a traveling carnival, Jim’s ATM card got taken by the bank machine and Clara got mistaken for a native Spaniard while talking to an elderly gentleman. She was psyched! We ate a meager lunch with the few Euros we had left and headed out to Estella. Clouds began to descend and rain drops began to fall as we followed the trail past the Medieval pilgrim hostel and Zaraputz. The long road into Estella circles around the city and then finally leads you in around the river. We went straight to the municipal Albergue and checked in. What a wonderful and welcoming, well equipped Albergue! One of the hospitaleros (pilgrim hostel volunteers) helped us find the clinic for Clara, told us we could stay a few days if she needed to rest and gave us the contacts for a physical therapist. So helpful and such humble service, we were so grateful. Clara was really hurting, barely able to walk. Even though we had slowed way down to walk more gently for her, her condition had been worsening, not getting better as we’d hoped. We knew we would settle in for at least two nights. We got groceries, did laundry and got caught up on our journals. So, after 7 days of walking and 75.5 miles of Camino behind us, we went to sleep smiling again!

 

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 3: The road to Longroño

Estella: Our first night in Estella was relatively quiet. There were some other pilgrims there, but most of them were out. While Jim and Clara went to Urgent Care, the rest of us showered and read and did laundry. Charlotte and I went into the city to get money and check out a good place for dinner. I journaled in the kitchen by the patio listening to a French pilgrim talking with a pilgrim from Belfast. He’d brought his dog and the two of them eventually started jamming on their guitar and ukelele. Aidan was happily checking email on the coin operated computer. I haven’t mentioned that so far on our way, we have been in the region known as Navarra. This is Basque country and everything written is in both Spanish and Basque. It can get a little confusing sometimes. In some of the more remote parts of the path, we would only see signage in Basque. In most of the  villages, the locals would speak to each other in Basque, and to us in Spanish. It had this weird feeling of being doubly removed. And then there was this odd reality at the Albergues, that English was often the common language. So we were able to hear and understand the conversations between most of our fellow pilgrims. At last Clara and Jim returned, Clara had been medicated and was very happy. We went to Cafe Che for dinner and some of us had burgers and fries. A taste of home. It was a lovely night, a bit drizzly but not windy. Clara had gotten the not so good news that she had a very swollen muscle and would need to rest. She would also need to be very careful so as not to cause a tear. We had already planned on taking a rest day the next day and we were happy to be able to explore Estella. The next day, Clara had an appointment with the local physical therapist/healer. Jim and I used to see this great chiropractor back in Massachusetts that we used to refer to as Miracle Max. This doctor in Estella was definitely Milagro Max. He was wonderful and so was his assistant, they kissed each of us on both cheeks on our way out and wished us a Buen Camino. This was, of course, after telling us that Clara needed days of rest, not just a day. (Also that we had bad posture and weren’t taking good care of Aidan’s feet, but that’s beside the point.) We spent the rest of the day exploring, napping and eating. It was a drizzly but otherwise beautiful day and Estella is a lovely old city. Jim was able to get his debit card back. The bank in Estella called the bank that ate his card and they held it there while Jim and Aidan retrieved it by taxi. The girls and I went shopping for dinner food. By the time we got back to the Albergue, it was hopping! Jim and the girls made a lovely dinner, sort of a spagetti chicken parmesan, salad and bread. Yummy. A big group of singles arrived as we were eating with all the fixings for a huge paella. The kitchen was humming in mostly English as people from all over the world cooked, talked, laughed and ate together. A woman from Ohio, some Italian guys, a young Mexican man, a young man from Madrid, a New Zealand travel blogger, a woman from England, some folks from Korea, two guys from Australia and the Hospitalero from Portugal, to name a few. They had quite a party. We played cards while they ate their feast and then headed to bed exhausted, as they partied on. We heard the news that snow was on the way. Oh well, we had had such great weather so far, we could deal with a little snow, surely.

The road to Villamayor: Since Clara had really only had a day and half of rest, we decided to do a half day. We woke up early and packed up. This had become like second nature by now. Alarms start going off around the sleeping quarters starting around 6 and everyone is up by 7. In most Albergues, you have to be out by 8. You sleepily get out of your bunk bed, careful not to whack your head if you are on a bottom bunk and careful not to injure yourself on the way down if you’re on a top bunk. You stuff your sleeping back into it’s sack, put it into a plastic garbage bag and then into the bottom of your backpack. You then pile the other change of clothes on top of that, then the few toiletries you have and the odds and ends go on the top. Close the plastic bag to keep water out, and zip closed the pack. The sheets (paper or cloth) get taken off the bed and pillow and then you put your jacket on, your pack on, grab your stick and head to where the muddy shoes are kept. Lace ‘em up and off you go. This particular morning, we were a bit more chipper than our fellow pilgrims who were still feeling the effects of the party. We had left-over strawberries that we needed to eat so we washed them and shared them with the other pilgrims. We especially liked it when the two guys from Australia (although it seemed like one of them was from New Zealand) would thank us for the “strow-burries”. We got our usual breakfast at a nearby cafe (café con leche and pan tostada) and headed out of the city. It was a long way up and out, and though it was cold, the sun was peaking through. We were excited to get to the Irache Fountain. We had heard about this winery that gives free wine to pilgrims just outside of Estella. We grabbed some bread and meat on our way out because we would have few places to eat until our destination. We had also heard that because of the big game (Barcelona vs Madrid in the National Fútbol Championship) we might not find any restaurant open. In fact, we were told by the Hospitalero that everything would seem like a ghost town that night, totally shut down for the game. We should have really thought about what that could mean before we left a city full of open grocery stores. The winery at Irache is really fun. We each got to fill our shells with wine for the journey. The shell is the pilgrim symbol, we each received a scalloped shell in St. Jean to attach to our packs. It held about a sip of wine, still fun. The kids were old pros at wine by now, since they had been being served since day one in France. Aidan didn’t like it at all, but the girls enjoyed a bit throughout our journey. When in Rome!? We headed past an old cathedral  at the ancient Benedictine Monosterio de Irache. Aidan spotted a hare and pointed it out to all of us before it hopped away. They’re big! And they look just like big nutbrown hare (Guess How Much I Love You?) The rest of the day was very nice. It was getting cold and we had to go slow, but it was beautiful country! Walking through miles of vineyards and olive groves again. We were just outside of Villamayor (our destination) when we passed Azqueta and the ancient Fountain of the Moors (Fuente de los Moros). This picture shows the double arch of what’s left of this fountain and on the left side of the picture you can just make out the three tiny Martin children marching forth. It had only been 10k, but we were all pretty tired and Clara was in pain. When we reached the village, everything was closed. Including both Albergues where we were hoping to stay. Thankfully, a new Albergue opened in a few weeks earlier and would be opening their doors in a couple of hours. We had time to hang. We walked around the Church and courtyard, looked down at the vast modern winery below and sang a few tunes together. Finally the doors opened. A lovely new Albergue (private) with internet, warm showers, laundry and a great kitchen! We were very happy. We were hoping to head to a local bar/restaurant and watch the game, but the only restaurant in town was being renovated. Not only that, all the stores were closed. Uh-oh. We were out of food! Three other pilgrims arrived. Anna, a russian college student from Germany, and Haley and Martin from England, who met at the airport on their way to Madrid. They shared their food with us. So we had some pasta and some eggs. That’ll do! We had warm showers and naps and time to think and rest. It was lovely. I did laundry. This is the not so good picture of the view out our window. Notice how not snowy it looks. Jim took a quick walk over the winery to see if it had tours or anything, but it was closed too. We enjoyed conversation with Anna after dinner. It’s so fun to get to hang out with people you otherwise would never get to know. We had a room to ourselves and our own bathroom too, so luxurious! We were told to make sure all the shutters were closed because of the storm coming. We made sure.

The road to Torres del Rio: In the darkness of the morning, our alarms went off. We couldn’t tell what it was like outside because of the thick shutters. Turns out it was very cold and snowy. We would learn to get used to cold and snowy. We didn’t have food, but the owners had managed some bread and milk, that helped! We headed out into the windy, frigid morning. It was beautiful, but unpleasant to walk in. We tried to make the best of it, making jokes and being silly. Aidan took a hard spill on a slippery, wooden step and he had a hard time recovering that day. We knew it was a relatively long walk to the next village. Not much you can do except put one foot in front of the other, so we did. Turns out, you really shouldn’t head out for a long day of back packing with your children in the snow without snacks! It was much longer to the next village than we thought (12k) and the wind was bitter! This was a rough day. Clara was still hurting and going slow and we had to go way too far for a meal. Sorry kids! If it hadn’t been for the whipping wind, it would have been much more bearable. Our kids were troopers. We just had no choice but to plod on. It was days like these that we would look at the map and discover that we hadn’t quite read it right the day before. Oops. It was disconcerting to think you are almost there, only to discover you have 4 more kilometers. The snow had been melting but it was still bitterly cold. By the time we could see Los Arcos in the distance, we almost had a mutiny on our hands. . We told the kids that we would evaluate the plan for the rest of the day after we’d all had some food. Charlotte, Aidan and I walked on a little ahead while Jim stayed with Clara. She was in bad shape but being such a good sport. As we got closer into the village, the buildings acted as a wind tunnel, great. It was really something. We finally found our way to the town square and the open restaurant signs, yea!! It was too cold to wait outside for Jim and Clara, so we poked around some shops for a bit. When they  got there, we were so cold and hungry we had trouble picking which restaurant to go to. It’s also a bummer for those of us used to being able to order a big lunch. At mid-day, they just have sandwiches. By that, I mean French bread cut open with some cheese or meat put between the slices. So, once again I ordered a burger because I wanted something hot. I had more burgers in Spain than I normally do back home. Jim went exploring and to find the bank and grocery store and the rest of us went back to the shop for a bit. The kids were still pretty mad at us and they insisted on being done. It was still so windy and cold out there. But we couldn’t get even more behind on our milage than we were already. So, we took our first taxi. We sang in the archway of the church while we waited for the taxi to come. It had to be a van because there are 5 of us. It was very cold. We did get some groceries at the shop and cashed up at the ATM. The taxi came, a wonderful local woman, total character. As we sped like crazy down the road (such a weird feeling after walking every day) she told us about the filming of “The Way” in Torres del Rio, our destination. And a few minutes later the van was climbing the very steep, narrow roads up to the top of Torres del Rio to the municipal Albergue. It was a pretty crummy Albergue. Just the basics and very cold. The bathrooms were outside! But we made dinner in the kitchen and played cards together, we had the little place to ourselves. That night, the Hospitalera came over from her house down the street to tell us we had a new Pope! It was very exciting news in Spain, so fun to be there for that!

The road to Logroño: The morning was chilly and windy, but we were ready to go. The Albergue was a bit grungy and cold. We left early because we had a long day ahead. We needed to get to Logroño. It was only 20.6 kilometers away, but with Clara’s injury, it would take all day. The city is set up on a steep hill. The first 4 kilometers out are up, up, up a pretty steep incline. Then descending quickly down in 1 kilometer. Not fun on the knees. It’s important to remember to look back. It was a bitterly cold day but the trail was breathtaking! It was a long haul to our next stop, Viana. The family stories, the jokes, the songs, the fun of looking for a place to pee, all of these things get old after about 7 kilometers. We still had almost 4 kilometers left when the fun ran out. It was another hour of just putting one foot in front of the other and trudging on. Each of the kids had their own coping mechanisms. Jim and I walked where needed, parenting on the Camino is a full time job. But even when the times were grueling or unpleasant, there was something so sweet and precious about the days together. Charlotte was making a list in her journal of all the in jokes that were being created on the journey. This is what I really miss. The trail ahead and nothing to do but walk with my children who are growing up so fast. The next time we attempt something like this together, they will be adults. It’s amazing, these people, these people that I’ve had the privilege of knowing their whole lives. I just love being with them. Then there is the part about where I get to be with them. This amazingly beautiful countryside with this ancient medieval path walked by millions over hundreds of years. I really did spend so many hours aware of the huge lump of gratitude in my throat. I was already feeling like it was going too fast! I was also so in love with Spain’s wine country. I tried to limit the number of times a day I would make a comparison between Spain and Northern California. “Irún is so much like Marin.” “Wow, we could be in Northern California right now.” “This is so San Mateo!” “Doesn’t this look just like the Santa Cruz mountains?” “No wonder the Spaniards took California, it looks just like Spain.” It made me feel very at home and was a salve to my constant ache of home sickness for Northern California. By the time we came up to Viana, we were hungry and ready to put our packs down and our feet up. But of course, the city is on a hill, so up to the center we go. We found a great restaurant and ate lunch and rested our weary bones. The city was just beautiful. There were a lot of tourists and pilgrims running around. Some wonderful historic sites and some great shops. The sun began peeking out. We didn’t have a long time to spend there, but we did a little exploring. We found the ruins of St. Peter’s Cathedral and made our first recording of the song we’d been singing through hours of hiking. (If you want to hear it, go to ‘The Martins on the Camino’ on FaceBook, or click song, the file is too big for the blog) It’s so much fun to have kids who like to sing and learn harmonies. And sibling voices sound especially beautiful together. Clara sings lead on a lot of our songs. I don’t know what we will do next year. Aidan could take it, but his voice will probably change just as Clara’s leaving. It is very tempting to stay in these interesting, ancient cities. But we had to make our way out of town and on to our destination. We checked out a few other attractions and then headed out. Sometimes the markers aren’t super easy to find. Thankfully we had five sets of eyes to keep alert to them. Many times we needed all five. As you leave the center of town, you wind down the streets through the Portal San Felices and out of the part of the city that is still within the old city wall. The neighborhoods are built from the foundations of the ancient city. It’s really something. The road out of town followed parallel to the freeway. It was pretty flat and the weather had gotten a bit better. It was still a lot to get our strength up for another 10k. This day was one of the first that we saw a good number of other pilgrims. We met a woman from the States (Washington) and another British woman, an Italian couple and an Australian couple. The path was mostly flat but there was a bit of up and down. The sky was getting cloudy again and it was a bit chilly. We had some of our new favorite snacks with us (Principes) and used the promise of chocolate to keep us moving. At our first rest stop just outside the city, Ermita de la Trinidad de Cuevas (an abandoned former nunnery) I made the discovery that I had left our guide book in Viana. The theme for that day (we had been using the titles we’d given to each year of our marriage as  themes for each day) was ‘letting go’, so I did. We would need another one soon though. Thankfully we were headed to Longroño, a big city. The road seemed to go on and on. But the sun finally came out for a bit and we paused while some pilgrims passed by. That was really a first too. We hadn’t seen a lot of other pilgrims while walking, usually we only saw them at the restaurant stops and Albergues.  I remember the light getting very pretty as we headed up the long hill before catching our first glimpse of the city. Aidan was in coping mode and a bit ahead of me. Jim and Charlotte were so engrossed in conversation that they never looked back. I was bringing up the rear with Clara, who was in a lot of pain after the longest stretch in a week. The promise of warmth and rest kept us going. The last hour of walking is sometimes the hardest. We were a motley crew as we entered the city and made our way to the municipal Albergue without our trusted guide book. I should mention that our children, Charlotte in particular, had learned to hate this guide book because it always made unpleasant things sound so very pleasant. Like huge hills and mountains. We made it to the Albergue and waited in line to register, another first. The Australian guys were there, they’d taken a rest day. The place was actually quite full. As we registered with the two hospitaleros, two fun things happened. Clara got mistaken for a Spaniard again and I got mistaken for my children’s sibling. This may be because by this point, Jim’s facial hair was really getting beardish, and it’s gray. He looked like a grandpa :) Speaking of Jim, he really likes to cook. At the end of a tough day, while all I wanted to do was shower and rest, he would gather food and cook us dinner. What a gem! We enjoyed hearing folks from all over the world converse over their meals. Then we headed to the warmth and comfort of our sleeping bags. Ahhhhh. So after 10 days of walking and 102 miles, we fell into a deep, communal sleep.

 

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 4: The road to Foncebadón

The next three days are all so different and cover so many miles and so many memories, I can’t believe it was only three days! We woke up at the Albergue in Logroño pretty early on March 15th. Someone’s phone had been making noise since about 5 and there were some amazing snorers. I should also mention that Charlotte talks in her sleep. She was very talkative during this trip. This particular night, she’d said a whole paragraph before I was awake enough to make out the words. I can’t remember what they were now. The albergue was very humid inside from all the warm bodies in the cold room. Clara was is a lot of pain and we were trying to adjust our plan for the day. We were going to taxi or bus part of it and then continue the week with the original plan of getting to Burgos before skipping the Meseta (the middle flat portion of the Camino Frances) to start the second half of our trek. But Jim had the brilliant idea of giving Clara another day to rest her leg by skipping to the second half today! Whoa, that was really out there. It took me some minutes to adjust, but then I realized how wise this new plan was. We would be making up for lost time and we would be able to start the second half in León, which was part of what we were skipping in the original plan. So we went walking through the city to find the bus terminal, the train terminal and the rental car options to see which mode of transport would be the best value. Since we didn’t have the internet to rely on, we had to ask directions. Jim got decent directions to the bus depot and then he and Clara waited there while the rest of us walked to the train station. It was fun to be out in the city in the morning. People were headed to work, getting their coffee, parents were walking children to school. It was a beautiful crisp, clear morning. It turns out that renting a car was the way to go. It is a weird sight to see five people with backpacks and walking sticks and muddy boots pile all their stuff into a car and drive away. We tried to follow the Camino as close as we possibly could. So we would be able to see what we missed walking. One of the reasons we had chosen the Meseta as the portion to skip, was because of how flat it is. Jim and I had learned on a cross country bicycle trip years ago that the flats are often harder than the hills and mountains. It’s the mental part that’s hardest. You lose your sense of where you are and how far you’ve gone. You have fewer markers to indicate your progress and no majestic views to prove you’re getting somewhere. The flats are great for adults who may be craving some time to ponder and just “be”, but we thought it would drive the kids crazy. Turns out it’s not much fun to drive, but definitely the best part we could have chosen for driving. We stopped for lunch in Carrión de los Condes, a beautiful little village at the beginning of the flats. We left the wine country and headed in the region called Castilla y León. Some traveling Spaniards up on the mountain outside of Pamplona had told us we were skipping the ugly part of the Camino (the meseta). I still thought it was pretty, like the central California farm land (am I making that comparison too often?). We arrived in León in the early afternoon and had been lamenting that on the day that had the best weather yet, we were stuck in a car! We returned the rental car and headed across the vast city to find the Albergue run by the Benedictine nuns. Turns out it was hard to find. But, while looking, we got to discover this amazing city. So different from where we’d been, so shiny and new, and yet so ancient and historic. We crossed over the bridge and through some major traffic circles and Aidan took a hard fall on the stone sidewalk curb. He tore his pants and cut open his knee. We found a restroom at a little cafe and chocolate shop (mmmm… convenient) and Jim tended to the wounds. We had a little afternoon hot chocolate and then headed out into the big city a little more aware of the uneven sidewalks. I fell in love with the little winding streets and shops and restaurants and people and energy. What a great city! In our pilgrim garb, we didn’t quite fit in. The folks at the Albergue Santa María de Carbajal were so wonderful. I believe this was the second or third time Clara got mistaken for a native spanish speaker. She loves that! There were folks from all over the world and a noticeable increase in the number of older folks joining the pilgrimage. There was a man who had put together a kind of trailer that he would pull behind him. It was odd, but he was super fast! Clara and Charlotte were interested in revisiting some of the shops that were closed as we came into the city, Aidan and Jim wanted to scope out a place for dinner. I found another copy of the guidebook I’d left along the way and we bought a journal or two. We went back to the Albergue to rest before dinner. While the children showered and hung out, Jim and I took off for a little glass of wine at a nearby bar. It was about 5 pm and the bar was full of older men playing dominos and telling stories. There were Semana Santa posters all over the bar and all over the city. Everything was gearing up for Holy Week activities. We attended a pilgrim compline service at the Benedictine convent that night. There were about 10 of us that followed the nun next door to the chapel. It was lovely, the program booklets were available in many languages. The nuns sang and recited and then gave us a blessing. The city was awake and chilly, I just wanted to go to my warm sleeping and sleep. In the albergue, the large room was crammed with bunk beds and a make shift divider in the middle to separate men and women. But you have to walk all the way through the room to get to the bathrooms, the point? There was a very large group of people from France. We had seen them at dinner. We had chosen our restaurant by default, but it ended up being absolutely delicious! I had the best soup I had yet had in Spain. There was some kind of military band marching and playing in the square outside. Some of the uniformed musicians came into the restaurant. But the rest of the restaurant was filled with these French pilgrims all traveling together. We were up extra early because I read my watch wrong. We were packed and ready to get out by 6:30 am, so were most of the other pilgrims, many who were about to start the first day of their journey. We had a communal breakfast of toast, jam and coffee around a very cramped, large table. Andrew was among us, but we wouldn’t meet him until that night. Then we headed out into the drizzly, cold morning. The city was still asleep. It was wonderfully empty except for a small group of young men who hadn’t finished partying. They took one look at us and started singing the official spanish pilgrim song, we’d heard it before, I wonder when and where these folks learn it? We found a cafe to get our café con leche and use the wifi and bathrooms. Clara was hoping for an email from University of Mary Washington saying she was accepted, but there was no email. We headed through the city following the yellow arrow markers we had come to love. We passed some beautiful buildings and parks and came to the grand Parador San Marcos Hotel. In the movie, The Way, the pilgrims spend a luxurious night there. Not us. We took a picture of the Pilgrim Statue right there by the hotel and continued across the river and out of town. The road takes us through the ugly sprawl of the extended city and it is mostly up. Clara was, of course, still in pain. She was getting very tired of NOT healing. This was not how she had pictured the trip going. We walked over railroad tracks on pedestrian bridges, past schools and shops and and car dealerships and warehouses and up and up and up out of the city. It was misting and chilly and a bit drab. Clara was getting more and more aware of how impossible walking really was for her. We took breaks and tried to stay positive. Eventually Clara called it quits. Unfortunately, we were no where near a phone, just a huge industrial park that was closed. So we had to press on. We told her we would call her a taxi as soon as we got to a phone. We had to go very slowly, it was still up hill. We were distracted by these cute little houses buried into the sides of the hills. They looked ancient and also very much like hobbit homes. Some where clearly abandoned but some of them appeared to be lived in. We finally made it to a gas station in a little town called La Virgen del Camino. We asked the attendant to call a taxi for Clara. Charlotte and Aidan were feeling especially generous and offered to keep Clara company, aren’t they so sweet?! So, for the first time, we put our children in a taxi in Spain and watched them drive away, with no cell phone to keep us connected. Yikes, this better work. Turns out it did. Jim and I had a lovely freezing cold, chilly, muddy, windy walk to Villar de Mazarife and the wonderful Albergue Tio Pepe. So the whole time we are walking, so free and brisk without having to think about the needs of our children, we are following these two German guys in black. What is disconcerting is that we feel like we are taking it fairly quickly and yet they look like they are having a relaxed stroll ahead of us. We are going the same speed. I am also aware this day for the first time of just how much my feet really hurt. I decided that I was aware of this because before, all the other aches and pains eclipsed my foot pain. But it was no fun. We stopped for a weird lunch in a practically abandoned town, Chozas de Abajo. There was a national geographic type special on the TV about grizzly bears. The rest of the walk was so flat and windy that we couldn’t really hear each other to have a conversation. We were relieved to find our children chilling at a restaurant when we arrived at the end of the day. We checked into Tio Pepe’s, a lovely restaurant and hotel. We had our own room, computer time, warm showers and very warm beds! Dinner in the restaurant was delicious! And we met some fellow pilgrims. Andrew, a young man  from South Africa, on pilgrimage for 3 weeks while his wife and son and new baby hold down the fort back home, Claire and Katie, a mother and daughter from Cork, Ireland. Katie was 17 and she and her mom were walking for a total of two weeks, all three of these pilgrims had just finished day 1. We very much enjoyed their company. There was also a couple from the States, Utah. They were skyping with their daughter. In the morning, the owner/cook/innkeeper (wife of Tio Pepe) gave us a pilgrim postcard and her best wishes. This stay had been a bit of luxury for us. We headed out on the clear, cold morning still about a day behind schedule. We knew we would have to taxi on one of the next few days. The morning walk was lovely. We were all doing our own thing. We passed farms and small canals and cows and small towns, this was the first and only day that I listened to music while I walked. I listened to the soundtrack to the Way, of course. This picture doesn’t look like it, but we are walking up and toward a pedestrian bridge that crosses the freeway into Hospital de Órbigo. This was an amazing old city with lots of history, jousting tournaments and a famous bridge. It was just a beautiful day! I was supremely happy. Swing the pendulum the other way and you have an idea of how the kids were feeling. But even if you are a hungry, tired teenager that is sick of walking and can’t seem to see the next village no matter how hard you squint, when you catch a view like this, it’s magical! The road that leads to this long bridge is actually a cobblestone street. It’s so pretty and charming and quaint. It’s unreal. Plus, on the other side of the bridge is food! It was Sunday at about 1 pm and so church was just getting out. This made the cafe search a little more tricky because there were quite a few people out and about. The restaurant that had real food wouldn’t be serving it for a while, so we contented ourselves with sandwiches at a local bakery, basically. The kids were done. We had gone a little too far without provisions again. And since we were behind schedule, we decided to take a bus to Astorga and then a taxi to Foncebadón. That way, we would be right on schedule for arriving at Santiago on March 30th. We had a lot of fun at the bus stop, not even sure that we had the right information about the schedule. But the bus came and 20 minutes later, we were standing in the middle of beautiful Astorga.  Astorga apparently has a chocolate factory and very good chocolate, but we were there in the afternoon so, of course, everything was closed. Oh and it was Sunday too. We spent about an hour relaxing in the main square, taking pictures and getting some provisions. We called a couple of taxis and the next thing you know we are screaming out of town going a thousand miles an hour following the Camino road practically all the way up the highest peak of the journey, Monte Irago. I was sad to have missed the chance to walk it, but it would have been way too late in the day when we would have arrived. And it was very cold up there. It did feel weird being dropped off by taxi when everyone else had worked so hard to get up there. But Clara could not have done it. Now we were here, back on schedule. There wasn’t much to this semi-abandoned village and there was only one place to stay, a private Albergue called Monte Irago. This would turn out to be one of the most memorable nights of the whole trip. . .

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 5: The road to Villafranca del Bierzo

Foncebadón: We get dropped off by the speeding taxis way up Mt. Irago. It looks like an abandoned, crumbling, ancient village. It has only a few buildings. There was one right where we were dropped off with a man standing outside smoking. He told us that the only place open this early was the Albergue just behind this set of buildings. The day was cold but clear, it’s breathtaking up there. The Albergue is a lovely old stone building that has been renovated into a small but cozy lodge. There’s a fireplace and little market in the front section of the room. We were greeted by the owner, a gentle man with gifts in the healing arts of massage and reiki. Perfect! There was a man asleep on the bench near the fireplace and a few others milling around. This really was the only place to stay in town for anyone who manages to get this far up the mountain. We paid for our beds and the communal dinner, which we were told would be paella. Now Jim is a very good paella maker, so we were interested to see how his would compare to an authentic Spanish paella. There were three floors, we were on the top floor with the skylights. It was a nice addition with lots of light and charm. Clara had a massage and reiki session. She was very sore after that. Her muscle was still quite swollen and it hurt to mess with it. The innkeeper warned us to be very careful with Clara, she was at risk for further injury. Jim and I headed down to the main floor where we could smell dinner cooking and have some wine and bread while journaling at one of the tables. There was an interesting assortment of books on shelves that lined the room. The fire was still going and the wind outside was picking up. As new pilgrims arrived, they looked especially chilled and grateful for a warm bed. We all came down for dinner at about 7:30. There we two tables in a T-shape. There was water and wine, salad and bread and paella! A wonderful feast! We met a couple from Canada, a woman from Germany, a woman from Denmark, some guys from Italy and Spain and Britain, a guy from Canada and a bunch of others we didn’t get to know. Dinner was so much fun, it was a lively group of people from all over the world from teenagers to senior citizens. After the food the folks who’d brought instruments got them out and started a jam session. Then the host got out his big basket of instruments and everyone joined in the music, singing and playing. Aidan is a drummer and I could see him itching to join the drum circle but he didn’t have a drum. After a while, one of the drummers looked around to give someone else a chance, Aidan seized the opportunity and took the drum. It was so fun to watch the expressions on people’s faces as Aidan took his place among the accomplished drummers in the drum circle. Once the rhythm was established, the other instruments joined in. It was awesome! It was also St. Patrick’s Day. March 17th doesn’t slip by in our household, we love to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a party including traditional Irish food, folklore, trivia, limericks and Irish dance. We were sad to have to skip that tradition this year. We could have never imagined that we would end up in a mountain snow lodge with people from various languages and cultures having a great party speaking the universal language of music. At some point a table was cleared off and a strange pot was brought in, some words were said, the lights were put out and the liquid in the pot was set on fire. It had a lot of alcohol in it, whatever it was. More singing, the lights went on and the concoction was sent around in small glasses, no thank you! It smelled like jet fuel. We finally had to call it a night, we were the first to head upstairs at 10 pm, a very late night on the Camino indeed! The mattresses on the floor were so comfortable, I would have slept like a baby if it weren’t for the sound of wind and sleet pelting the skylights all night long. I kept willing the storm to be just rain, but knew in my heart it was snow. Sure enough, when we woke up we were in the middle of a blizzard. We enjoyed breakfast around the table with our fellow pilgrims. I had already finished my dry toast and coffee when I spied the peanut butter, shoot! I had been missing peanut butter so much. We got to know Ana from Denmark over breakfast, such a sweet person. She and the guy from Canada and the girl from Germany were walking mates, none had known each other before the Camino.  We had been excited for this stretch of the Camino. It is on Monte Irago that the pilgrim walks to Cruz de Ferro. We packed up and put on all our gear (in cold weather we layered up with all the clothes we brought) and headed reluctantly out the door. It had been such a special night and we weren’t thrilled to head out into the freezing storm. We still had some of the mountain to climb and Clara was not able to walk very fast. We took it slow, but it was pretty tough. It was super windy and quite cold. There was snow blowing and the trail was thick with snow and ice. Our goal was to make it to Cruz de Ferro and then get a taxi for Clara. We climbed and climbed. Finally we could see the cross. Pilgrims have been leaving a stone (or note or trinket) at the foot of the cross here for many years. The pile of stones now creates a large mound leading up to the cross. People have various reasons for doing this, we carried stones with us since the beginning of the walk. Jim brought his from a retreat a while back, I got mine on the side of the road in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. We each had been thinking about what leaving the stone would mean to us. I had been struck during our daily conversations about how I never had any idea of what was around the corner each year. I decided that my theme for this walk and for life is “you have no idea”. So my stone represented an acknowledgement that in life you just never know. We had pictured this moment very differently, as it turned out, we left our stones quickly and kept moving because we were so cold! I was having need of a bathroom too. Maybe here is a good time to make a comment about bathrooms. I wish more women would write about their experiences on the Camino. Everything you read leaves the impression that bathrooms are plentiful. They are not! Almost everyday presented a bathroom problem for me and my daughters. We made it work, but it was not easy, especially for women walking for a month or more, nuff said. We came to a tiny uninhabited town called Manjarín, there is no Albergue there (no matter what the books say) but there is this crazy man in a knight suit with a big dog and a bunch of signs outside his make shift pilgrim “shop”. I was able to use his outside bathroom while my kids fell in love with his dog. He ranted on and on about the “evil” guys that ran the Albergue on Mounte Irago. He wasn’t all there, but his signs are a regular feature in Camino guide books. Jim got a stamp for his passport from the shop. But there was no calling a taxi from here, Clara would have to trudge on. We continued along the windy way, snow and wind all around but slowly going down, waiting for the moment that we would get below the snow line. That always seems like a good thing until you get below the snow line and realize how muddy everything is. Clara was really hurting and the kids were pretty shocked at the conditions, I kept thinking how fun it was that we were in the mountains of Spain trudging through the snow in a blizzard, how often do we get to do that? Once again it was way too long to the next town, way too long! We finally made it under the snow line and were clearly going down. Clara was really hurting and the last hour or so was practically straight down on a rocky path, tough. We descended into the lovely little hamlet of Acebo and found a place to eat. There we found the rest of our fellow pilgrims just finishing up their lunch. We still had a long way to go to get Ponferrada, but Clara was needing to stop. We had a lovely lunch and then said good-bye to Jim, he would finish the day’s walk and the rest of us would taxi to Ponferrada. We had a great taxi driver who told us all about the history we were driving through and stopped the car to show us landmarks and points of interest. We got to the Albergue San Nicolás de Flüe at about 3 pm. The volunteers at this Albergue were so great. One of them had a conversation with Aidan and later gave him an hospitalero carved pendant. He told Aidan that this meant that Aidan would return to the Camino one day to serve as an hospitalero. It was a very basic converted church, but we enjoyed our stay there. We left as the sun was coming up the next morning. We had decided to let Clara have 4 days off. We would taxi her and one sibling for the next 4 days. This was Aidan’s day to walk and Charlotte’s day to accompany her sister in the taxi. They would hang out at the cafe until around noon and then taxi to Villafranca del Bierzo and meet us at the municipal Albergue around 5. We had 24.5 kilometers to cover that day, a good day’s walk. It was just a beautiful day! Perfect weather for walking, it was hard to believe that just the day before we were up on the mountain in a blizzard. It was really fun walking at a brisker clip but I was having strange stiffness and pain in my hip. I started to think about how disappointing this must be for Clara, because if this persisted or got worse, I wouldn’t be able to walk either. There is a great 12th century Templar Castle (now restored and open for visitors) in the middle of this beautiful city. The knights of the Templar used to protect the pilgrims from danger back in the day. They also established a sort of bank and trust so pilgrims belongings would be in their care while the pilgrim took to the Camino. I was bummed we didn’t have more time to spend here. The neighborhoods that fill the landscape as you head up and out of town reminded me of the Berkeley hills. We made a plan to walk for longer distances between breaks and get the bulk of the kilometers under our belts before lunch. The road we followed went up and down, not much of it was flat, but we enjoyed beautiful weather and amazing views. And the towns were close together. We passed some of our fellow pilgrims from the past day or two as they stopped to rest or have a snack. I remember passing a couple of shirtless German guys by a stream and one of the commented that it was the first time he’d seen the sun in Spain. We were having a lovely time and looking forward to finally making it to Cacabelos for our lunch. Just when Aidan was about to give up, Ana from Denmark passed us and slowed down to walk with us. It was just the pick me up we needed. It was fun to hear about her experiences and why she’s here and what her plans for finishing the Camino were. We walked into town and went to the first restaurant we found, her walking partners were waiting for her there. We ordered our lunch and the typical regional appetizer, octopus. Jim had had it in Madrid when he was a kid, I tried a piece of the meat from the inside. I wasn’t brave enough to try the suctiony things. The rest of the afternoon was a tough haul but we managed to get into Villafranca about 40 minutes early. The girls were not at the Albergue, it was closed and wouldn’t be opening until April. We headed down the hill where some of the other pilgrims were staying but then we were told about another Albergue on the other side of the river. We walked through town to find it and check in. It took a while but we finally found it. Then Jim and Aidan got to work getting groceries and making dinner and I went into the town square to see if I could find the girls. I tried every cafe and restaurant but couldn’t find them. Eventually I decided to go all the way back to the entrance of town and see if they were at the closed Albergue, yup. We made the trek back across town to the new Albergue. It was a narrow, three story building with the beds on the top floor. Really?! But they had a dog named Conan and nice warm showers and we got to meet some new people. We met Ken, a teacher from a private boarding high school here in Northern Virginia. He was on the Camino for 2 weeks with one of his students, Sasha and her Russian mother. Some Asian guys were there, Adrian (an older British guy), and Tracy from Australia, among others. We had some good food and nice conversation and then headed to bed. So after 14 days of walking and 157.5 miles, we rested our weary bones once again.

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 6: The road to Samos

To La Faba: The next morning we were up early again. It was another long walk ahead with Charlotte to keep us company. We were getting very close to the last region on our journey, Galicia, and we were beginning to see the influence in the architecture, food and landscape. The pathway along the camino follows a river for most of the day. Charlotte is lovely company and we were able to keep a good pace. We had sent Aidan and Clara on to Vega de Valcarce because we knew the Albergue there was open. On our first cafe stop, we heard from the two German girls that the Albergue in La Faba was open. They had called ahead because this one was run by Germans and they were interested in staying there. This was good news because we had wanted to get further up the hill that day. So we walked through the many beautiful villages on our way to meet Aidan and Clara in Vega de Valcarce, but planning to eat there and continue up the mountain to La Faba. This would be our last night before officially entering Galicia. We were very fortunate with the weather again today. It was chilly but sunny and not windy. The Camino was very hilly though, but we were very used to that by now. We saw quite a few other pilgrims on the way to Vega de Valcarce. It’s a small village that winds around the stream. We found Clara and Aidan at the far end of town and went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Charlotte decided that she wasn’t interested in walking up to La Faba with us, so all three kids took  taxi up and Jim and I walked alone. Well, not entirely alone, we walked with Ana again for a bit of it. She and her walking mates were headed all the way to the top at O’Cebriero.  Jim and I took the trail route up the steep path to La Faba. It is a very beautiful and very steep up hill to this beautiful village. When we got there the children were on their beds reading and napping. The woman who was in charge checked us in, we were the only pilgrims there. This was a surprise because we expected the German women to be there. We were informed that the grocery store was closed. We had no food to cook for dinner so the Hospitalera looked around and came up with some groceries for us to cook, which we bought from her. While we were hanging our drinking tea and journaling in the dining room, a German man came over to chat. It turns out that he runs another Albergue in town, Vegetariano. We hadn’t realized we had choices. He was a fun character, he’d lived in a tree house for a while, built a “green” Albergue and serves a vegetarian menu. We passed his Albergue on the way out, it looked like fun! But we had made our choice. We went exploring around the German Albergue, it had a beautiful chapel next to the building, St. Andrew’s. It had great acoustics and we sang another song. The German girls finally arrived, one of them was having knee trouble that slowed them up. They, too, thought there would be food to buy for dinner. So we shared our meal with them and then played cards until bed time. Laura and Rachel were their names. They were childhood friends who decided to walk together during a break from different grad school programs. They were giggling the whole night about how “German” the Albergue was.

To Fonfría: We slept well, the seven of us. The Hospitaleras (another appeared) made breakfast for us all, eggs and toast. So nice! They also made arrangements to get a taxi for Clara and Charlotte who would meet us in Fonfría that night. So Jim and Aidan and I headed out into a chilly morning for what we knew would be a tough day’s walk. Aidan had a great attitude and the views were out of this world. The higher we got, the more snow we encountered. Our first stop was about halfway to O’Cebriero, the last village in Castilla y Leon, then we would officially enter Galicia. We stopped at a cafe in Laguna de Castilla. I loved this charming cafe. I would end up seeing many more just like it, it represented the Galician style. I was in love. The buildings are made of flat stones layered on top of each other with beautiful dark wood beam accents. The interior is simple and warm. Such beauty in the design. The path up to O’Cebriero hugs the mountain and is pretty narrow, the wind was picking up and it was quite cold. By the time we finally made it up to the top, we were very cold. There were people admiring the view who’d driven up to see the historic church and village. There were a few little restaurants and shops, we stopped in. This is the first time I had been exposed to the reality of Celtic Galicia. The music sounded just like my beloved celtic music from Ireland and the artistic knot work in the graphic designs were also the same as in Ireland. The Celtic people of old (part of the Atlantic culture) shared mythology, food, music and cultural roots with the more well known celtic cultures like Ireland. The people of Galicia see themselves as Celtic people with a culture and language (Gallego) distinct from the rest of Spain. I was having a ball! We are of Irish decent and my family has loved celebrating our heritage by learning about the culture and traditions of Ireland, including it’s music and dance. We had so much fun connecting to Galicia’s celtic roots. Unfortunately, the rest of the day was a bit of a bust! We made a wrong turn into the woods and ended up knee deep in snow heading up for the next 2 hours. It was slippery, windy and demoralizing. Aidan was so done!! He got very angry at us that day. When we finally made it to a road side dive for some food, he refused to walk anymore. I didn’t blame him. We made a deal, Aidan and I taxied the rest of the hill to the next village and would meet Jim there to walk the last 3.5 kilometers together. So we taxied to Alto do Poio and Jim climbed on. It was very windy, the natural path was snow covered so he had to walk on the road, not so fun. We all walked on the road together for the last windy while, Aidan was refreshed and enjoying talking our ears off once again. And we finally arrived at the Albergue, A Reboleira (a favorite!). It was so well designed, with a lovely living room with huge windows overlooking the snow covered mountains. The wind was so loud! The girls had unpacked and started the laundry, they were hanging out in the living room reading. There were quite a few people there. A couple from Austin, Tx, some young German men, Laura and Rachel, an older man, and a bunch of others. They had a little cafe attached and a restaurant down the street that they had just reopened. All of us opted for the dinner at the restaurant. It was the best meal I had in Spain! And my first taste of Galician cooking, so good!! The bread loaf was now round instead of the French bagette style, there was this wonderful soup and then a meat and peas dish that was amazing! This is where we first had Tarta de Santiago, a cake we would be seeing a lot of. The building was a typical style in Galicia, built in the round, it was stunning. We walked home after dinner very full and ready to sleep.

To Samos: There are two roads that end up at the same eventual place from here. You can head straight to Sarria or you can take a slight detour and go through Samos to get to Sarria. We opted for Samos because of the Monastery there. It is the oldest Monastery is Europe and we wanted to see it, plus part of it is an Albergue, too cool! It was Charlotte’s day to walk. We would learn that a Charlotte walking day means non stop pouring rain. It was really hard to leave this comfortable, cozy Albergue we had fallen in love with. But out we went, through the mud and muck and rain, up the path and on to Samos. Charlotte is a very fun walking companion. It was muddy and hilly and some of the path was washed out, it was rainy and windy and cold, but she kept going and making jokes and singing and enjoying the ridiculousness of the whole thing. A kindred spirit. The views were so amazingly beautiful, really. And at our first stop of the day, we brought in buckets of water. The cozy cafe had the best tortilla española we’d had in Spain. It was as good as Jim’s! There was a guy doing the Camino on his bike that was stopped for a rest. He looked soaked too. We walked along the rocky path with a river of water underfoot. Literally. We finally made it to the top of the hill overlooking Samos. We were quite weary and the day had been very taxing. As we looked down at the beautiful sight, Jim went to look for a place to relieve himself. Charlotte and I looked down at the knee high stone wall in front of us and saw a stone with writing on it. It said “Energy for Charlotte”, what?!!! No joke. Pretty fun. So we walked down the narrow, steep streets into the little hamlet that is Samos. Such a pretty little place with a beautiful monastery. We found Aidan and Clara already checked into the Albergue. They were in their sleeping bags on their bunk beds reading. This Albergue had no heat and I think it was colder inside than out. We got some food at the cafe across the street. Jim and I went for a tour of the monastery, it was very beautiful. Later that night we returned to the monastery for vespers. That was interesting. It took place inside the monastery in a little chapel. There was this one young monk with such an attitude, he was cracking me up. He rushed in late and then spent the whole service looking at his nails and fidgeting with his robes while he kept this disdainful, removed expression on his face. Too funny, it was like an SNL skit. The Hospitalero was named Ralph and he was a Spaniard who had lived for nine years in Ohio. Sweet guy. We were excited to all walk together the next day. The four days of rest had been good for Clara physically, but had taken an emotional toll. She was feeling very disconnected and disappointed. We were hopeful that a half day’s walk would reveal that the healing had begun and we could get back to the Camino the way we’d pictured it, all together! So after 17 days of walking and 193 miles, we zipped up our sleeping bags and fell asleep once again, thankful and tired.

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 7: The road to Hospital de la Cruz

To Sarria:  We woke up in the chilly monastery about 6:30 a.m. It was still colder inside than out. It had rained most of the night but the sun was starting to peak out. Ralph (the hospitalero) had given us some great advice on how to get our boots to dry out overnight. We stuffed large amounts of newspaper into each shoe. It worked really well! Rachel and Laura had made it to Samos too. We said good-bye to them, knowing it would probably be the last time we saw them. As we stepped through the doorway, a big rainbow broke out above the tree across the street. We said good-bye to Ralph and went across the street to the restaurant for breakfast.  We’d had a funny exchange with the restaurant owner the night before. I have mentioned how hard it is to get hot food earlier than about 7:30 pm, so we would often end up eating hamburgers for dinner, because at least they’re hot. Now, sodas don’t taste the same either, they have their own brands and then the US brands must use different recipes because they don’t taste the same. The only soda we really drink is diet coke and it was yucky there (coke light). So we would end up having water with our meals. But when we first get to a restaurant, we want something right away. So we would often end up ordering a hamburger and a cafe con leche. Not something I would consume at the same time, but usually the cafe con leche came first. So anyway, the night before when the owner brought over our hamburgers (and our cafe con leches at the same time) he said, “Americans, right? I can tell because only Americans order cafe con leeches with hamburgers.” I thought that was pretty funny, there was no way to explain to him why we’d done that. We were excited to all walk together again. Clara did not feel that the four days’ rest had helped much. Part of the issue was that she still had to walk some each day, so she never had time to completely give the muscles a rest. We had decided to walk two half days instead of taking a day off, so that we could move at whatever pace Clara needed. It was a spectacularly gorgeous day! Perfect cool air and a bright sun. The 13 kilometer day would be through rural farms and very small villages. The next place to rest and get food would be in 10 kilometers, but the map made it look pretty flat (yeah, don’t believe what it looks like on a map!). It was a picture perfect day, but walking slow is hard on everyone. It makes every kilometer feel like two. Clara was in pain with every step, she was sad, disappointed and angry. She tried to keep up her spirits. We walked up and down, through woodland trails and muddy cattle routes. We saw horses, goats, cows, chickens, sheep and a unicorn. Well, it wasn’t a real unicorn, but it was a magical looking white horse all alone in this fairytale like forest. (Clara turned the horse into a unicorn using Photoshop when we got home). Jim and I took turns walking with Clara, she had a lot of photos to take for her photography class and this was the perfect day for it, but she was really hurting and so disappointed. It was a tough day mentally and emotionally. It was also very hard to tell how far along we were because the path was so rural. Those 10 kilometers stretched on and on. By the time we finally reached the tiny village just past Perros, we were very tired and way too hungry. Unfortunately, Taberna do Camino was closed for renovations! Oh no.  We asked a couple of locals how much further it was to a restaurant. They told us one was about a kilometer away. We slowly made our way to Paloma y Leña, a private Albergue. This sweet place had a sign out front inviting pilgrims to come in for tea and encouraging them that Sarria was only 3 more kilometers away. We took them up on it and went in to find someone. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, Albergues don’t usually open until about 4 pm. This is the time of day when they would be cleaning and getting ready, but the owners (a mother and son) were so hospitable and helpful. They welcomed us into their lovely establishment and served us tea and cookies. The children wanted to call it a day and book a night at this wonderful place, but we had to find food and some medical attention for Clara. While we were enjoying our snack and making plans, Eion arrived. He’s from Ireland and was on a 10 day trip with his son’s boarding school walking the Camino. He had gone a bit ahead of the group and stopped in for some tea, his son arrived a few minutes later, Sean. He was struck with how much the countryside reminded him of the times he spend on the Dingle Penninsula as a child (that’s in Ireland). We had a nice conversation before asking the owners to call us a taxi, instead, they drove Clara and Jim to the hospital. Just as the car pulled away, it began to rain and I realized that Jim had all the cash. Aidan, Charlotte and I headed out for the final 3 kilometers, but planning to stop at the first restaurant that took plastic. We were to meet Clara and Jim at the hospital at 3 pm. It was getting a bit cold and windy in addition to the rain, but we kept chugging along and eventually found ourselves on the outskirts of the city of Sarria. No problem finding a restaurant, it was Saturday and their were lots of people out and about. We had some technical difficulties finding Jim and Clara, but it worked out and we all ended up at a restaurant for a late lunch and a big decision. The doctor had told Clara that she had to stop walking. She had now also pinched her sciatic nerve and her muscle was still swollen. This was big. We had to consider all options. Do we decide to end the Camino here? Go back to Madrid and see the sights? Do we try to figure out a way to carry or pull Clara? Do we send her ahead to Santiago and meet her there? It was not fun to contemplate any of these options, but we had to face the fact that this Camino would not continue in the way we’d hoped. We decided to walk into Sarria, get settled and cleaned up, and revisit the decision at dinner. I was feeling very sad. I was also feeling very scared that I might have to give up on this pilgrimage when we were now only about 100 kilometers from the end. Any way we sliced it, things were about to change. It was a tough pill to swallow. Sarria is a big city. This was also the day before Palm Sunday, the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week. Spain takes this week off, so it becomes the perfect time to walk the last 100 kilometers of the Camino and get your certificate. We had known that we would be walking with more pilgrims through this stretch, but we were unprepared for the spectacle ahead. The Albergue at the top of a long stone staircase in the middle of the city was packed! Folks that had just arrived to start their camino experience were laying out their sleeping bags and taking pictures of each other with their gear and cute, clean clothes. We, on the other hand, were dirty, tired and sore. We got cleaned up and found a place to eat.  We talked about our options and Clara decided with us that we would continue the journey on the Camino and she and one sibling would taxi ahead each day. This was happy news for Charlotte and Aidan who now had only half as much to walk! But Clara was quite sad and disappointed. We enjoyed dinner and headed to bed, running into Eoin on the way back to the Albergue.

To Ferrerios: It was a rainy morning as we headed out with a throng of new pilgrims with Aidan. We found a cafe for the girls to hang out in for a while before taxiing ahead. We had our yummy breakfast and took to the trail. There were colorful pilgrims everywhere! It was hard to walk together without blocking the way. This was new, we were used to being almost completely alone the whole day. We would learn that there are many people in Spain who walk this part of the trail during Holy Week every year. They have their ski poles and spiffy outdoor gear and lots of energy! Aidan felt lucky because it was his day to walk and it was only a half day, because we hadn’t taken a rest day, we did two half days instead. So it was supposed to be easy. Although we were only going 13.3 kilometers, they were mostly up, up, up. Sarria is a big, ancient city and we started the day up in the old part of the city and had beautiful views down below. It was drizzling but the temperature was nice. The path was full of people all leaving the city at about the same time, so strange. After you leave the city, you head straight down to cross Rio Celeiro and then continue up for the rest of the day. Galicia is lush and beautiful and very hilly! It had been raining so much and now the path was being walked by so many that it was very muddy, mucky and sloshy. The small towns on the outskirts of Sarria were making the most of the beginning of pilgrim season. There were road side stands selling everything from food to walking sticks. We also noticed that there were many more resort like Albergues lining the path now. There were more knick knack shops and souvenirs and umbrellas. Pilgrims hadn’t used them up until now. These new pilgrims were different. I was having a hard time acclimating to the new normal. I decided I needed to let go of what had been and embrace what is. The experience now was a much more public one, I told myself it is as if we decided to come to the World Cup or the Olympics, we would expect crowds and busyness, so I needed to open myself up to this new Camino. We stopped at a restaurant/resort type place to use the bathroom and they had the best music playing there. Jim got into a conversation with a college student from Canada who was studying in Madrid for the year and decided to hit the Camino for Spring Break, he was already hurting. This place had a sort of shrine like thing that people would leave things on. We would see more of these as we neared Santiago. One nice thing about having all these people is that you get help making it through the super muddy or washed out sections. There were many. Aidan kept his spirits up for most of the day, but he was surprised at how challenging the walk actually was. At one point, as we headed into a very pretty part of the trail lined with large flat rocks, we heard someone say, “Why this must be that family from America!” in a South African accent. It was Andrew! We hadn’t seen him in weeks. He said he had a feeling he would see us today because last night he’d been invited to dinner in Sarria by an Irish guy named Eoin. Eoin mentioned meeting a family from America and Andrew knew it was us! I had been wondering about him. He had a newborn and a two year old at home (and a wife very ready for his return). We had a few minutes to walk with him and catch up on each other’s Camino experiences. He had been dealing with a knee injury that had slowed him down, but now he was on schedule and would arrive in Santiago as planned. He had chosen to walk the Camino alone. It was a very difficult adjustment for him to be walking these last 100 kilometers with so many people, he was quite funny imitating some of the conversations he’d overheard with fellow pilgrims on their cell phones. Please! His coping mechanism? His iPod. He wished us well and we wished him Buen Camino and said good bye. So wonderful that we got to see him again. We walked through rock lined trails streaming buckets of water, through muddy fields to avoid the spots where the trail was washed out, and through some of the most beautiful moss covered groves I’ve ever seen. It was magical. We came through another small farm village and were looking for any place to buy a snack. I was noticing how the village and farm land around here could be Ireland, there was an older man carrying some kind of green clippings coming toward us. I could picture him speaking to us in an Irish accent. To my surprise, he started a conversation with Aidan. He had a thick accent and was hard to understand but he wanted us to mention him and his wife in prayer when we got to Santiago. He was right at eye level with Aidan. He pulled three walnuts out of his pocket and gave one to each of us and wished us a buen camino. His name was Dionisio, what a sweetie! As we got closer to Ferrerios, our destination, Aidan was getting in a bad mood. It was very hilly and he was sick of being muddy and sweaty. We made it to Ferrerios and had a couple of Albergues to chose from. But we had told the girls to meet us at the municipal Albergue, so we headed there. We passed a restaurant on the way. Our Albergue was open, even though it was only 1 o’clock. The girls were there and had scouted out where to sleep. It was one large room lined with bunk beds and two bathrooms at the far end. It had laundry but no kitchen. We laid out our beds and rested a bit. There was always a lot of graffiti on the beds. On my bed, there was a note that said the best food on the Camino was down the road at Mesón Mirallos. We filed that information and took some time to rest before dinner. While we were chilling, Kujin came in! He had been at Samos the night before, one night after us. We had a wonderful conversation with him. He is the young lawyer from South Korea we had seen in the first weeks. He had also skipped some of the middle part. He had been excited to go to Samos because there is a South Korean monk there at the Monastery. He told us about his wonderful visit with the monk and some of why he is walking the Camino. It turns out that he had heard of International Justice Mission (where Jim works) and had visited the office one time with a bunch of other law students from South Korea. So fun to have these reunions! We headed out to the restaurant for the best food on the Camino and weren’t disappointed. There was a large family having a big party there, but they managed to clear a table for us and we had a great meal! Thank you whoever wrote that note on the bunk bed! Later that night we also met Dodo, from Germany, she’d just finished her PhD in psychology and was killing some time on the Camino. Again, the Albergue was full that night.

To Hospital de la Cruz: We returned to the same restaurant for breakfast in the morning, although we made Jim walk down the hill to make sure it was open so we didn’t have to walk back up the hill if it wasn’t. It was. Well, sort of. The mother of the owner was there to hold down the fort, but she didn’t seem quite prepared for the pilgrims and their cafe con leche needs. She also seemed a bit overwhelmed with our need for a taxi, but she rallied. It was Charlotte’s turn to walk, so it was raining cats and dogs! Such beautiful countryside to walk in though. Charlotte keeps everything moving quickly and keeps us entertained.  It was to be a 20 kilometer day and our half way point was Portomarín. The first 10 kilometers were down then up, then down then up, then steeply down and onto the long bridge across the Rio Miño. The views would have been wonderful if weather hadn’t kept us from enjoying them. We were totally soaked and chilly on this windy, foggy morning.  It felt good to be keeping up a quick pace and making some headway. Charlotte had developed some weird rash like thing, we’d had it looked at in Sarria and had a prescription but hadn’t filled it yet. We were hoping to fill it in Portomarín.  The path was difficult given the weather, we didn’t have any food with us but we trudged on. Finally, we descended into the valley where the bridge crosses into Portomarîn. It was lovely. There is a long bridge that crosses the river and leads into the city. Again, the city is built on a hill, what’s with that?! But we climbed into the city and went in search of a pharmacy, a bank and a restaurant. What a cute city! We ran into a helpful local woman who was excited to tell us that she’d been to NYC and loved it. She pointed out where we could find the things we need. There was an Albergue there that we saw, it was full of high schoolers or something, they were being loud and running around in the rain, I guess it wasn’t a walking day for them. We sent Jim to get money and the prescription and Charlotte and I found a cafe for lunch. I was soaked! While Charlotte and I rested and ate at a cafe right off the main square, we saw pilgrims we recognized getting dropped off in taxis. The couple from Utah and the couple from Austin. Jim finally caught up with us and had some food. There was a newspaper clipping framed on the wall of the cafe, it was about how the former president of Ireland had walked this part of the Camino de Santiago. There was also a statue right outside of the window of the cafe. The statue was of St. James as a pilgrim showing the way forward. We left the cafe and proceeded to go the other way in the pouring rain. When we realized we were not on the right path and made our way back to the square, it dawned on us that the statue was pointing the right way, oops. It was so chilly and the way out of town involved going back down to the river before going back up around the city, we hadn’t needed to come into the city at all. But it was a needed break and a lovely place to have a meal. We also got the money and medicine we needed. We’d also managed to find a couple of pairs of fake crocs, these were needed for the non-camino parts of our journey. Everyone seemed to have crocs to wear when not walking. The rest of the day was spent going basically straight up in the pouring rain and wind. Much of the path was washed out or too muddy so we had to take the street. The street is not fun, it is not as pretty and then there’s the cars. There was a lot of fog and so it was hard to appreciate the scenery. We were trying to get to Hospital de la Cruz by four o’clock, but we were going to be late, we knew it. The last 5 kilometers were pretty much straight up. I can tell you without a doubt that the rain in Spain does not stay mainly on the plain. We climbed and climbed and climbed. We passed some pilgrims, that was fun, we were so used to being the pilgrims that get passed! Charlotte doesn’t like for us to take her picture, she also doesn’t like us to show her picture, but she let me take a picture of her and Jim in one of the charming little villages that we passed through that day. We really did love the Galician style. We had gotten so wet, we couldn’t get any more drenched. Something about being that wet makes it easier to walk in the rain, it’s actually kind of fun. The villages that we passed through were so beautiful. We set our sights on Gonzar as our next place to rest. There is an Albergue there but since we’d already made plans to meet Clara and Aidan in Hospital de la Cruz, that wasn’t an option for us. We finally made it to the restaurant in Gonzar. There were two men there having lunch, a father and son from Canada who were biking the Camino. They were finishing up their food and we were ordering ours. It was lovely to get to sit down and get dry for a few minutes. Their bathrooms were on the outside of the building though, cold! Charlotte was in the mood for fries, so that’s all she had. The wind was getting very strong and knocking chairs over on the patio outside the restaurant. The TV at the restaurant was reporting on the record amount of rain that Spain was getting this March compared to other years. There was flooding and concern about the extreme weather. This is a picture from the TV of the flooding that was happening. I think they said there was five times as much rain this March as in past Marches. Just our luck.  We left the restaurant with just 3 kilometers left, straight up. We stayed on the road for most of it, the trail was flooded. When we got to the municipal Albergue. Aidan and Clara had been there for hours, waiting in their sleeping bags on the small porch for it to open. They waited four hours! There was only one restaurant in town, so we headed over after our showers. They were not ready to serve dinner, they told us to come back in a few hours. It was very stormy out and we weren’t all that interested in walking back and forth again, but we had no choice. We went back to the Albergue and had some wine and journaled for a while. There were folks from all over, none whom we’d met before. At last we headed back to the restaurant, we wanted to spend some time talking together about how things had changed for us now that Clara wasn’t walking with us and we were in two groups all day. But just after we’d ordered and were about to start talking, a voice said, “May I join you?”. It was Hilde. She was from Norway, but had grown up in Washington State to Norwegian parents. She now lives in Norway and teaches Middle School English. We had a wonderful dinner with her. This is what the Camino is all about, sharing stories and meals with people you never would have met otherwise. After dinner we trudged back through the rain and wind to the Albergue for a good night’s sleep. So after 20 days of walking and 221.5 miles, we closed our eyes on another day.

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 8: the road to Monte do Gozo

To Casanova:  It was a bright, chilly morning. Clara knew she had about 3 kilometers to walk before we’d find a restaurant for her to hang out at before taxiing ahead. It was very muddy and quite hilly, she was not pleased. The wind had died down a bit and although it was chilly, it was very pretty out. We headed up over the freeway and into a beautiful grove. I walked with Clara for a while and then hung back to take pictures. The closer we got to Santiago, the more the focus of the walking day became how far from the final destination we were. This wasn’t true for most of our time in Spain, but the addition of the late-comer pilgrims and entering that last 100 kilometers make you realize how fast this adventure is drawing to a close. It was a bittersweet realization, especially for Clara. She was getting quieter and less connected to the experience, spending more time reading and sleeping. It was getting hard to accept that we would be in Santiago so soon and the journey had been so different than she had hoped and expected. I really wanted her to have the chance to enjoy these last few days, but we still had a few long days of walking ahead and she would be unable to experience that with the rest of us. We stopped for breakfast at the cafe connected to a private Albergue. There was a large Scandinavian family having breakfast as well. The room was small and cozy and seemed like a good place for Clara and Charlotte to hang out until they taxied on to Casanova later in the day. It was very foggy and some ominous clouds were gathering, so I wanted to get going. Aidan and Jim and I headed out for what we knew would be a challenging day. There would be many hills and valleys, remote villages and not a lot of places to rest. It turned out to be drizzly and muddy, but also quite beautiful and peaceful. We kept up a good pace knowing that the Albergues were filling up earlier and earlier now that so many people had joined the pilgrimage. We stopped early on for a bite to eat and some coffee and at cafe with large ant sculptures on the  patio. The road was wide and it didn’t feel as crowded on the trail. By the time we got to our lunch destination, Palas De Rei, we were very tired and hungry, but we had gone 3/4 of our way for the day. Another quaint, ancient city built on a hill with narrow, stone roads and a church on top. We found a restaurant and dropped our heavy bags and sat down our sore bones. There was a cool handle at the bar on the thingy that you pull to make the beer come out. I am sure there is a word for it, but Jim is not here to tell me what it is. The food was ok, the owner was a bit gruff. After the other customers left, he came to our table and was a bit warmer, he was impressed with Jim and Aidan’s Spanish. He must get pretty sick of pilgrims, especially during the high volume times like Semana Santa. It was starting to rain and we needed to get going so we could be sure to get a bed at the Albergue in Casanova. It was very hard to put the packs back on, but we did. Then down a bunch of stone stairs and out of the city. The walking was tough this day, much of the trail was washed out or super muddy. It was full of ups and downs and quite remote. By the time we arrived at the tiny, wooded hamlet, it was raining pretty hard. We found the Albergue and the girls and got our beds. There was already a line to register, even though it was only about 3 pm and this was not a popular stopping point. I think some of the new pilgrims were sore and wet and just wanted to stop a bit early. The two women who worked at the Albergue (who chatted animatedly with each other Gallego) informed us that there was no store and no restaurant for miles. But she did happen to know the owner of the private Albergue that had a restaurant and they would be driving people over there at about 8 o’clock. Yikes, we were so hungry and the girls hadn’t eaten since brunch. They had taxied to Casanova and waited on the porch in the rain for it to open. The taxis were getting more and more expensive the closer we got to Santiago, it had cost almost twice as much as earlier taxis. The girls were very hungry and not very happy. We made the best of trying to fill up 5 hours with distracting fun, it was hard. The place was crowded and cold. Naps and reading. In the end it was closer to 8:30 by the time we got our ride, but the food was delicious! The owners young daughter played waitress and she was adorable! We went home full and tired, it was after 10 by the time we got to bed, very late by Camino standards!!

To Arzúa:  We got up from the crowded Albergue and headed out into the drizzly morning. We would again have to walk for about an hour before reaching somewhere that had food. We were still pretty much walking in the woods through remote towns and it was hard to tell if there would be any place open anytime soon. Thankfully, it was pretty flat. Clara was in pain and hungry, but she didn’t have to go up or down hill, which would have made the pain worse. It was a beautiful trail, everything was bursting with the vibrant green of early Spring. The trail smelled delicious. We came to a few places that looked like the town that was supposed to have the cafe, we were starting to get worried that we would be walking all day with no food when we came to an intersection of two small roads with two restaurants! We chose the one that was open. It had a tented area outside which was genius. That way the wet and muddy pilgrims don’t have to ruin a nice, clean restaurant. We had our regular breakfast of cafe con leche and toast. Our moods were brightened by the cheerful owner and some chatter about the pilgrims we were encountering. In Sarria, we had seen what looked like youth groups traveling the Camino during Holy Week. There was a group of young men (high school?) that seemed like they were all from the same soccer team or something that would travel together and chant as they jogged. Actually, they were pretty obnoxious sometimes. As we got ready to head back on the trail, they came jogging down the road in the rain. They were covered in mud and singing their fight song in the pouring rain. Thankfully, they would be ahead of us! It was a Charlotte walking day, and a long, hilly one at that. So, again, it was raining cats and dogs. We knew that we would really have to make good time, we had a long way to go and the municipal Albergue in Arzúa was the only one we could afford at this point, what with the added expense of the daily taxi ride. Charlotte continued to be an excellent trail companion. She is funny, witty and observant. She was also very used to walking while completely soaked, as were we. One of the positive things about having so many more people on the trail was how fun it could be to people watch. There was a very memorable pilgrim from this day. Late morning, just after we’d walked through a particularly rancid industrial something or other (it smelled like a place that does something with wet cow poop), there was a miraculous break in the rain and the sun actually peeked out for a few minutes. We took a rest at a new German cafe to have a little snack. Everyone was enjoying this brief bit of sunshine. There was a young boy, maybe 6, who was entertaining everyone by climbing a rock wall on one side of the patio. He was then joined by his younger brother (2-ish at most) who had a balloon. His little brother began climbing as well and I tried to not think about how dangerous what they were doing was. Where are their parents?! Out of the restaurant comes a very tall man wearing a backpack and pushing a jog stroller. By the time we got our food, he had put the little one in the jog stroller, rounded up the other boy, lit a cigar and headed out onto the trail. What a character. Unfortunately, he was to remain up wind from us for the next few hours. His awful smelling cigar stinking up our fun. Many of the hills were very steep, I would finally get ahead of him and then take a short break to catch my breath and he would get ahead of me again, yuck! In Melidé, where we ate lunch, they were playing the best music in the restaurant. I made Jim ask about it and the owner ended up burning us a CD! Awesome Galician Celtic music! We finally got to Arzúa, it was almost 4 o’clock, we had gone as fast as we could given the weather and the crowds. When we checked in, we were told we’d gotten the last 3 beds! This was great news to Clara because she had already gotten beds for her and Aidan and didn’t want to sleep there without us. The folks in line right behind us had to go to another Albergue, that was close. This Albergue was very large, we had two beds in one room and three in another, so we split up boys and girls. There were some annoying people there, a group of folks on my side of the room who acted like all the beds were theirs even if your stuff was on it. We went out and had a nice meal down the road. Once again we were approached by a fellow pilgrim. This time it was a young woman from Atlanta. She was a student at Johns Hopkins University who was studying in Madrid for a semester. She decided to walk the coastal route for Spring break. We asked her about how that worked out, were things open? were they crowded? how’s the trail? She enjoyed speaking in English, she was feeling quite homesick and it felt good to speak in her mother tongue. We headed back to the Albergue, we saw Hilde and some other pilgrims we’d met earlier, they were glad to see that we’d caught up with Aidan and Clara. We did some laundry and I hung out by the 2nd floor window listening to the sounds of the night and watching the sun go down. It was a lovely, still night. The room was very hot and the breeze felt wonderful. I could see out over the rolling hills we had spent the day walking over. It was so peaceful and beautiful and I was painfully aware of how fast this journey was coming to it’s close.

To Arca:  Aidan had been looking forward to this day the whole trip, his last walking day! It would be another hard day, but at least it would be his last. The kids never really did warm up to the whole walking all day up mountains in the rain thing. Arzúa is a pretty good sized city, we went to the cafe where Aidan and Clara had hung out the day before. It was very purple and orange. It had wifi so we took another family picture with our faces full of excitement about almost getting to Santiago and posted it on FB. The girls hung out there for the morning before taxiing on to Arca. We were already up high so the first part of the day was a gentle going down, then a steep going down, then a steep going up. This pattern repeated itself often. One of the fun things about this part of Spain is all the Eucalyptus trees. I grew up around them in Northern California and I loved seeing them in Spain. I was curious about how they got here. I had only learned as an adult that my beloved Eucalyptus forests were actually not native and doing some ecological damage. Unfortunately, this is also true in Spain. I am not sure when and why the Eucalyptus groves were planted in Spain, but in California the Australians brought them over during the gold rush. I love the smell! The groves we walked through looked just like the ones on the Penninsula where I grew up (notice this recurring theme). It was drizzly and foggy but not a pounding rain. We had to keep pushing on, we were a little more anxious about getting a spot at the Albergue after the previous day’s close call. We had pilgrims all around us for most of the day. Sometimes it seemed like we were walking through the same town again, or up the same hill or through the same farm. The markers told us otherwise. Aidan kept a good attitude and we had a very enjoyable day. I kept trying to drink everything in. Although I was very sad about the time passing so fast, I was looking forward to not walking 10 to 15 miles a day. I had felt so great during week three, like I could do this forever, but by week four I was feeling pretty ragged. I had developed a problem in my shoulder, the first 10 kilometers were ok, but after that I was in a lot of pain. I like to be aware of what’s ahead, I like maps and a head’s up about conditions. It seems that Aidan doesn’t like that as much. He would rather create a very optimistic picture of what’s ahead, even if it’s completely wrong. This meant that I often heard Aidan complain to me, “Mama, that’s not helpful!” For instance, we had come over a particularly steep climb and on our way down the other side Aidan says, “Well, at least that’s our last big hill!” and I say, “Actually, Aidan, we have another big one at the last 3 k’s”. And then I hear how unhelpful I am being. I finally learned not to burst his bubble. But the last 3 kilometers on this day were steep and ugly, following a main road, they took Aidan by surprise and he was NOT happy. It had stopped raining but it was windy. From the bottom of the hill you could look up and see what you were going to have to climb, it was a sorry sight at the end of a long day. It slowed us down a bit but we finally made it. The Albergue was huge and it seemed like there were a million people there and they were all obnoxious teenagers. I said it seemed, at the end of a long day I was low on patience. The girls had settled into their bunks. Charlotte was finishing reading The Host and Clara was reading The Princess Bride. Things filled up quickly behind us. There was a large community room full of people. There had to be at least 3 youth groups there, someone was celebrating a birthday. Smaller groups tried to find a comfortable chairs and privacy. We played cards for a couple of rounds, but it was just too loud and crazy to enjoy. We shared a bunk room with a whole bunch of young men. I nick named two of them Tatoo Boy and Mr. Undies. These guys were about 20. They must have been hot from a long day’s walk, even though it was pretty chilly in the Albergue, because they both stripped down to practically nothing and made sure everyone got a good look at them while they “searched” for the well marked bathrooms, presumably to shower. We are definitely experiencing a wide range of pilgrims. I must admit that some of our enthusiasm for this last stretch was dulled by this experience. We weren’t just annoyed with our fellow pilgrims, we were getting on each other’s nerves too. We put ourselves to bed.

To Monte do Gozo:  It was crazy to wake up on our last full day of walking. Every one else at the Albergue would walk all the way to Santiago today. We were stopping at the last Albergue before entering the city limits, a huge complex on Monte do Gozo. That would leave the final 4.5 kilometers for us all to walk in together the next day. We took our time getting up and out to the cafe for breakfast. Never been so happy to leave an Albergue in my life. I took this picture of the Xunta character on the way out, this was the logo for the municipal Albergues in Galicia. The movie Greece was playing on the TV at the cafe, when that was over a bunch of 80′s videos played, weird. Jim and I were excited for the last day, but the kids were feeling pretty done. Charlotte decided to taxi with the other two. We made a plan to meet them at noon at the municipal Albergue. Then we left all three of our children at a cafe in Arca, and walked away. We had no phones and five hours until meeting time. It did feel weird, but we’d been separating everyday for more than a week at this point. Our biggest concern was that they would fight with each other, there were only 2 nooks among them. Aidan had an essay to write and a play to finish reading, we asked the girls to help him out. It was a drizzly morning and there were lots of pilgrims about. It was fun to just be the two of us. We kept a good pace and enjoyed conversation. There was some sunshine in the early part of the walk. We went through eucalyptus groves, through small villages, into suburbs, around the airport and finally up toward Monte do Gozo. At one point we walked through Lavacolla, this was an ancient ceremonial cleansing area at the river. Pilgrims would wash themselves and spiritually prepare their hearts before entering Santiago.  These kinds of places were really fun to visit, so much history. We continued our pace up the hill toward Monte do Gozo. It’s a mountain. It has a long gradual climb and a wide road. There were a lot of pilgrims. Sometimes it was hard to keep a steady pace because people ahead of you would stop or otherwise block your way. The weather turned bad, a bitter wind, fog and a driving rain. There is a famous lookout where you get your first glimpse of Santiago, we saw fog. We even ended up losing sight of the pilgrims just ahead of us. We got up to the little town, past a few sketchy looking bars and found the municipal Albergue. It was gi-normous! I think when it is fully opened and full it can sleep almost 1,000 pilgrims. Only the first two building were open for the night, but not at noon. We had an hour to kill and a cafe at the bottom of the complex was beckoning. It was raining very hard and we had to walk to the other side of the campus and down hill and downstairs, through the courtyard and over to the cafe. When this place is all open and the weather is nice, it must be something.  It has it’s on grocery store, laundry, shop, two restaurants and many other buildings for who knows what. But on Good Friday, only one cafe and the laundry were open. There were only a few other people in there, we ordered some pinchos and and took a seat by the window. How lovely, a little time to ourselves. We enjoyed our snack and then headed back up the hill in the rain to meet the kids at the check in. They weren’t there. By the time they were 10 minutes late, we were getting very worried. My consolation was that we had lots of pilgrims we could ask if we really lost them. They knew that plan. I stayed at check in, Jim went to run around the small town area and see if they were waiting at a cafe or something, even though the place looked pretty deserted. The longer I sat alone at the Albergue, the more I thought of all the things that could have happened. And this was the last time we would be separated for the rest of the trip. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Charlotte’s wet, angry face come through the door! The taxi driver had dropped them off at what he thought was the municipal Albergue, it wasn’t. Then the three of them proceeded to have different ideas about what to do after they realized they were not at the right place. This led to fighting and them not speaking to each other. In the end we all found each other, got our room and headed back down to the restaurant. After food, their moods were much improved. The cafe is large and has a very high ceiling, two of the walls are made completely of glass. I bet the view is breathtaking! We had a very good view of fog and rain, which we didn’t mind, we were warm and dry. There was a German movie on the TV that was dubbed in Spanish, it was really bad but we watched it anyway. Then we got out the cookies and played cards for a while. There was a family there with three young kids, they had driven up but were contemplating doing the Camino as a family soon and had a lot of questions for us. We finished some laundry and walked back up the long hill to our room. We shared an 8 bunk room with two Spanish women. They kept to themselves, I can’t imagine it’s much fun to share a room with a family. The girls and I met some young pilgrims in the bathroom. One young woman from Argentina was missing her family and thought it was so wonderful that we were doing it together. So did we! So after 24 days of walking and 270 miles, we rested our rain soaked heads, so thankful to be together again!

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The Camino de Santiago, Part 9: The road to Santiago de Compostela!

We woke up in Monte do Gozo on Saturday, March 30, 2013. It had rained hard all night. The very large youth group, that we had been reluctantly traveling parallel to for the past few days, had been partying hard all night. We got up early because Clara was still in a lot of pain and we didn’t know how long the 4.5 kilometers would take. We thought that we needed to get two more stamps in our pilgrim passports before entering the city and we were a little stressed about that because we were so close. We were the only ones getting up and out at 6:30 that morning. In fact, the kitchen was a total disaster after the youth group’s party and I doubt they cleaned it up after we left, not cool. It was cold outside and very cloudy. The ground was very wet and muddy, but the rain had stopped. We passed through the immense facility on our way back to the Camino path. The shops and restaurants were closed, as was the office. We headed down and out onto the road. It was immediately clear how urban the landscape had quickly become. After winding down through the residential part of the suburb, we crossed over the freeway and began the final miles of the journey. It was very surreal. After all this time and all these amazing experiences, we were about to get to the end. We were moving slowly through the streets looking for an open cafe for breakfast, but that was proving difficult this early on a Saturday morning. The streets were getting wider and busier, the city was waking up. We found a very orange and pink cafe to provide us with our necessary stamp and breakfast. We were anxious to keep going because we weren’t sure how slow we were going to be. I must admit that at this point my pack felt heavy and my feet felt tired. We were so close that everything seemed unreal. We were happy to be all together again, but we weren’t in the best of moods. As I recall, everyone was a bit touchy. We left the cafe and saw the sidewalks slowly filling up with a steady flow of pilgrims. It was starting to drizzle a bit and the sidewalk was very slippery. As we crossed a large intersection, we could hear the sound of horses on the stone street. We knew that sections of the Camino can be done on horseback, but up until this point we hadn’t seen any. There was a group coming up the street on horseback, about 6 or 7. Two of them were going way too fast! The street was slippery and one of the horses looked like it was in a cartoon trying to ice-skate. It was actually pretty upsetting. We thought we were going to witness a horse break it’s leg. The leader of the group had clearly lost control of his riders. They didn’t appear to know what they were doing. They raced up the road for another block until he finally rounded them up. The horses were beautiful, but they appeared a bit shaken, as were we. The closer we got to the city proper, the more bustling it got. We found a cute bakery to hide in when the boisterous, Italian team came running by singing it’s usual chant. We hadn’t seen them the day before. But this would be a day full of reunions. After they passed we got our last Camino stamp at another cafe just across the street from the entrance to the final portion of the Way. Then we began the climb into the most ancient part of the city. As you can imagine at a moment like this, our children began bickering, then they got us involved and we had a full blown attitude mutiny on our hands. We stopped at a little intersection (this part of town has very few cars) and tried to salvage what was left of our last moments of the walk. We finally got everyone to shake off whatever was annoying them and continued winding through the narrow streets following the familiar yellow arrows. We crested a hill and turned a corner and I heard bagpipe (gaita) music coming from a tunnel ahead. I borrowed Clara’s phone and shot this video while I followed the music: Entering the plaza at Santiago. I didn’t realize that I was catching my last few moments of the Camino as I entered into the court of the Cathedral! It brought tears to my eyes. The skies had parted and the sun was peaking through the clouds. None of us spoke to each other at first. Then we all laughed and hugged and took this picture. It was an amazing feeling, we did it! The place was almost deserted when we got there, slowly it started to come to life. As we started to find our way to the Pilgrim office, we ran into Dodo and Alyssa then Adrian and then Kujin. It was fun to see them all again. They had all arrived a day or two ahead of us and were staying in nearby hotels taking in this amazing city. Then we headed off to the pilgrim office to get our credentials. Just outside the office we ran into Hilde! So fun to see her again. The pilgrim office is inside a little patio, it’s a small office with about 4-8 workers taking  pilgrims as they line up outside. When we got there, it was pretty much empty. A line quickly formed behind us. It was a bit anti-climactic, we just took our passports to the desk, signed in, made a donation and then we got our credentials. We bought a little tube to keep them safe on the journey home and then went in search of a place to stay. We had met many pilgrims along the way who shared our concern about having a place to stay in Santiago. Some people booked hotels and others got there early to snag the few places they knew were open. We had tried to make reservations ahead, wondering if Holy Week would be crowded, but in the end we were able to stay at a large Pilgrim hostel just outside of town. It used to be a seminary and could sleep up to 250 people. After walking there and pushing the children beyond the point of reason, we taxied back into town. The day had turned beautiful! It was sunny and in the low 70′s, just lovely. We were free of our packs and ready to be tourists! Everyone was looking for that special momento. As we worked our way through the busy city, we saw some more familiar faces. It was so fun. We went to the noon vespers. Normally there would be a Pilgrim Mass in the evening, but because of Holy Week there was just the noon vespers and then a late evening service. It was cold and crowded in the Cathedral. We couldn’t enter through the main doors because they were doing construction there. They have also banned the tradition of placing your open hand in the sculpture as you enter, it’s just gotten too old. Many people are walking and talking and taking pictures inside, there are no pictures allowed during a service. It took a while to clear all the none participants out, many of them wanted a glimpse of the botafumeiro. The botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.  Incense is burned in this swinging metal container (incensory). The name “botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Gallego.  If we had been able to stay for Easter Mass the next morning, we would have gotten to see it in action. It swings from one side of the church to the other. We learned that originally it was believed to purify the pilgrims of their sins and provide relief from the stench they brought with them after a long and sometimes bathless journey. There is so much to take in when you sit in the cathedral, it was overstimulating in some ways and so peaceful in others. When the service was over, we said hi to several other pilgrims we’d noticed during the service including Katie, Claire, Andrew, Sasha, Ken, the girl from Argentina and the chanting boys. We left the cathedral and came out to a bright and beautiful afternoon. We had a wonderful lunch and then went shopping. It was such a slow and goal-less day, it felt great! Our spirits had picked up and we were enjoying each other and trying to go slow enough to take it all in. After we all found something special to take home with us, we went in search of Jim’s favorite Spanish dessert, churros and chocolate. It’s like hot chocolate that got way too firm or chocolate pudding that’s a little too thin. Then you dip a donut (basically) in it. I did not find this appealing at all. Oddly, neither did the kids. But Jim was thrilled to have a chance to relive his favorite dessert from his year in Madrid as a kid. On our way back to the Seminary, we decided to buy supplies for a home cooked meal. There was a large kitchen in the basement that some folks were almost done using. Jim made a lovely pasta dinner with wine and bread! Ah. After dinner we went out to the front of the building because we heard music coming up from the city below. We couldn’t find where it was coming from but we felt inspired so we went into a metal gazebo on the hill and practiced ‘O Sacred Head’. It sounded awful and we kept making funny mistakes and I think someone swallowed a bug. We had a blast. After getting all the silliness out, we composed ourselves and recorded the song in the echoey entrance of the seminary building. You can listen to it here. It was precious and fleeting. It was starting to get dark and we were saying goodbye to our Spain adventure. Jim and I left the kids at the seminary and went back into town to go to the evening mass. I was so tired but I wanted to get as much in as I possibly could while we were there. I am so glad we did, it feels very different in there at night. There were candles and singing and some guest scripture readers. When it was over, we made our way back to the seminary and up to the one wing that was open for pilgrims on the chilly third floor. There were only about 25 of us there, all in two rows against the longer walls. Charlotte was happy to not be sleeping on a bunk bed for once. These beds looked like the kind set up in the make shift hospitals during WWII. The room was dark and most people had already gone to sleep, including our kids. I remember finding my way to my bed and wishing I could freeze this moment. There was so much swirling around in my head and heart, but I would eventually succumb to exhaustion. So after 26 days of walking and 272 miles, we closed our eyes on the Camino de Santiago.

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