Category Archives: Travel

Trips taken & trips Planned

 A Typical Day on ‘The Way’- Living in the Moment

Not that there’s really any day that’s the same, we did start to see a bit of routine develop. But I should go back just a bit…..we did initially try to plan every day, setting an end point for each day but discovered very quickly that most days never went according to “The Plan” we had made. Either the distances were longer or shorter than we were prepared to do each day (every day you feel different both emotionally and physically), the terrain you covered each day varied so much (some days there were many steep ups and downs or you walked a lot on boulders which is hard on the legs and feet), or maybe there were long distances to cover with no cafes or albergues in between so that when you’d get somewhere, all you wanted to do was to eat, drink, and rest; or it was raining and you were wet, or it was hot and dusty and you needed a sangria/cervesa/cervesa y limon, or you found a great ‘pilgrim supply shop’ you simply had to go into and shop….the list goes on. 
We were using a great guidebook which had been highly recommended to us, written by John Brierley. (As we walked along, we saw copies of the same book stuffed into numerous N. American pilgrims’ pockets and packs (Brierley must be making a killing since we saw so many and such a variety of editions!) Brierley divided the Camino Frances up into 33 stages; each stage with comprehensive maps, diagrams, lodging, and food. We learned that a sort-of “Brierley’s Brigade” as Michael called it, had developed along ‘The Way’ – many pilgrims who followed the Brierley book stayed at each beginning and end village/town/city at each stage. The distances for each day fell between 18 – 30 km/day. After some experimentation, we decided we wanted to listen to our bodies as to when to stop and to stay at the albergues in places between Brierley’s stages. Oftentimes there were fewer people, smaller albergues, and different choices in ‘Pilgrim Meals’ in these places. We stopped , usually at the first albergue we’d come across since our sore feet, legs & lungs and/or growling stomachs insisted.
So we gave up planning where we would stop to eat, drink, stay each night and learned to live in each moment. (Being a planner, this is something I have strived to do all my adult life.) The moment we awoke started our day. Sometimes if it was quiet or if we still had our ear plugs inserted and our masks still on, we could sleep past 6. If not, we’d get up with everyone else using our flashlights and headlamps (so as to allow sleeping pilgrims to sleep) or when the lights were turned on by some brave soul after 7am. (Sometimes that brave soul was me as I hated packing in the dark, afraid I’d leave some vital piece of equipment or clothing or toiletries behind.) Early on in our walk, when we were still part of ‘Brierley’s Brigade’, we would get up very early if the distance was far so that we could get the ‘required’ kilometres in.
Sometimes our ‘coffee moment’ started before the day’s walk began if the cafe was open early; other times, our ‘coffee moment’ happened along the way after an hour’s walk; sometimes (rarely) even after a 3 hour walk. We preferred to have a coffee and something to eat before we started but sometimes we started with just the water in our camelbaks. Then, finding a cafe that was open and serving breakfast was pure ecstasy. Most often, breakfast consisted of “cafe Americano con una pocita de leche” (coffee with a tiny bit of milk) with a croissant for me and tostada (TOAST –  which turned out most often to be warm slightly singed bread – few places had a toaster and threw the bread briefly on the grill) for Michael. Once I finally learned how to say “scrambled eggs” or “huevos revueltos” in Spanish, we sometimes had eggs for breakfast/brunch. We got so we actually liked to start with just a coffee, walk for an hour or more, and then stop for breakfast/brunch.
‘Rest moments’ happened very spontaneously depending on if: 

– you came across an unexpected and interesting coffee place – one playing Spanish guitar music… one on wheels…..;

 
– you came upon a Halloween parade;


– you are from Wyoming and just happened to come across a “Cowboy Bar”;


– you just had to stop and shop on THE WAY;


– a photographic opportunity beckoned; 

 
– you wanted to stop at a “landscape altar” (as Brierley so aptly named the many beautiful natural places) that simply called to you to come and spend some moments in silent contemplation; 

– a church with an open door, music playing, candles lit, invited you to come in; 


– you had a ‘hot spot’ needing the application of vaseline, sore feet, socks that had twisted around, or blisters that needed attention; 


– you spotted a vineyard with grapes or maybe a fig tree with ripe figs….! 


– you came by a ‘Donativo’ rest spot where many items/foods were on offer all by donation


– there was a particularly comfortable looking bench to sit on either in the sun or the shade – whatever the current conditions dictated;

– you found an outfitters shop for pilgrims and HAD to go in;

– you had to stop and enjoy the “Cow Concerto”;


‘Rest moments’ happened frequently some days and rarely on others. Sometimes a ‘rest moment’ even turned into a night in an albergue….and that is a whole other story altogether and the subject of another blog.

We also had ‘conversation’ moments and ‘silent moments’. Simply walking, placing one foot in front of the other for hours on end, clears your mind. You stop thinking about all the daily stresses and worries of everyday life. All of a sudden, you find you are having ‘moments’ of a totally different nature. Moments that:

– involve spontaneous singing of or whistling or humming of marching tunes you haven’t heard since you were a kid

– make you sing songs about the sun as it rises in the sky behind you, warning your legs and the back of your head as it lights up the sky behind you in magnificent colors of orange, fuscia, magenta, and yellow (You Are my Sunshine, Yellow Submarine, Here Comes the Sun….and many more)

– have you asking each other questions of a more spiritual nature and what you believe and why such as the connectedness of everything, the divine, universal energy, God.

 – are silent for what seems like hours

Living in the moment and making decisions when they needed to be made, made the walk relaxed and comfortable. We had the luxury of knowing we could stop whenever we wanted, whether it was for photography, to talk, to contemplate, to visit churches, to take the roads less travelled (aka the scenic route), for sickness, and that we’d still have as much time as we needed. We allowed ourselves a lot of extra time – over 60 days – for the entire walk. Brierley suggests that the walk can be done in 35 days but we wanted to take our time. Our average mileage turned out to be around 22 km/day with daily distances ranging from 8 to 30 km/day. We did the whole thing in 38 days including 2 rest days for sickness.

Albergue Nights – Sleepless on ‘THE WAY’

 One of the first scenes in the movie “The Way” takes place in a large, crowded albergue (pilgrims accommodation usually open rooms with rows of bunk beds and very little – mostly none – privacy). Martin Sheen lays awake as the multitudes begin to snore and snore… IT is funny. UNTIL it is you laying there… 


Almost every morning I/we awoke to some fellow pilgrim complaining about the SNORING and not being able to sleep. Just to be clear: EVERY albergue has a ‘snoring problem’ and with rare exception, EVERYONE snores… YES LADIES – even YOU! People snore LONG & LOUD – first, when they are TIRED & second after they have had a few drinks. Combine a large group who have walked a 20+km day, then consumed the cut rate “Perrigrino Menu” which usually INCLUDES lots of WINE… AND the RESULT will be a LOUD & most cacophonous concert that night. Rather than complain, I thought about solutions. After all we were warned.

Every Camino guidebook stresses the need for ear plugs when planning to stay in albergues. From my perspective they are an ESSENTIAL – CRITICALLY IMPORTANT piece of gear. So important that I would even say 2 pairs are advisable – just in case. GOOD EAR PLUGS – NOT some cheap foam ones that the airlines hand out; BUT high quality – GONNA let you sleep through WWIII EAR PLUGS. Before we left the states, Tilly and I purchased 2 pairs each of silicone earplugs  that deadened the snores so much you could hear your own breathing. Only problem, for me – comfort.

I would usually wake up in the middle of the night take out the uncomfortable ear plugs  and lay awake for a while, exposed to the full intensity of the noise. The first night, I braced myself for a sleepless few hours… wondering why I consented to sleep in one of these places. Sure enough there were dozens snoring! But, before I could manifest my frustration, I perceived a rhythm. Some of the snores were synced with others. Patterns began to emerge. Then one section of the room seemed to reply to another section. It was a symphony of nasal obstructions that I was hearing. Instead of being aggravated I became fascinated. Soon I fell easily back asleep. 

Most nights in albergues, I seemed to be hearing different concerts. The snores, puffs, squeaks, sighs, humps, whooshes, all blended … I began to name the nights… The Somnambulist Symphony, The 40 Wink Opera, The Snorers Sonata, but the best and most memorable performance was in the public albergue in Leon -The Barnyard Concerto. I awoke to the sound of a cow. ‘Humpf…moooooooooooo’ -‘Humpf…moooooooooooo – then a pig joined in ‘huck…eeeeeee’ …. ‘huck…eeeeeee’ …. ‘huck…eeeeeee’ … chickens clucked… dogs barked… cats meowed …. climaxing with a tractor starting … sputtering ‘puh’ … ‘puh’ …. ‘puh’… the farmer muttered something unintelligible … AND then the cow started the sequence over again. I swear it went on for an hour or more… but who knows… I fell asleep smiling. 

But before I make sleeping in albergues sound idyllic, as is wont to happen there was the occasional concert crasher. The Irishman was one. When he snored it was as his neighbor said the next morning, “like a bloody 747 at full throttle pulling an 8 hour long freight train”. I was three beds away and even the super-duty earplugs could not entirely stop the roar. And there were the nights of raucous partying by the locals in the bars located directly beneath our accommodations… one lasting until 0430… On those occasions I thanked the makers of our ‘industrial grade’ ear plugs…. 

So, if you are planing a Camino walk… pay attention to the warnings of the movie and guidebooks… take some darned good ear plugs. It will help to throw in your imagination and sense of humor.

Black Magic, Angels, and Miracles on the Camino

Black Magic, Angels, and Miracles on the CaminoBlack Magic- on a Friday, late afternoon – bad luck we ran into last week when we followed the advice in our guidebook and took the bus from Mansilla to Leon in order to bypass the heavy traffic coming into Leon, a large city here in the north of Spain. Michael in a moment of haste, left his “murse” (man’s purse) on the bus. He didn’t realize it until we were halfway to our albergue so we had to make the decision: return to the bus which most likely would already have left the station, or check into the albergue and ask for some help there. We decided on the albergue option. There, we met our first angels, Christina, Paul, & Jose, the hospitaleros at the albergue S.Maria de Carbajal, a convent in the old city. As soon as we explained what had happened, Jose was on the phone to the police in both Mansilla and in Leon. They recommended we take a taxi and return to the Mansilla bus station, so that’s what we did. No sooner had we started back in a taxi, than Paul called to say that the Guardia Civil had gone to the station to check and that it wasn’t there and that we should return to the Leon National Police to fill out a police report which we did. Not a word of English was spoken by anyone at the police station. The report we filled out was in both Spanish and English. Finished! We were sent on our way. The police couldn’t even send us in the right direction.

It was as we stood on a street corner looking at our map, trying to figure out how to get back to the albergue, that another angel popped up. He led us all the way to our abergue!!! (Meeting again two days later …he asked if we’d found the bag and when we answered NO, he said we should just stay in Leon!) We checked into the albergue and immediately Michael got on the phone and cancelled all of his credit cards. Thankfully, all of mine would still work. Thankfully also, Michael had his wallet and cash in his pocket. The passport and iPad were the issue. We could deal with a missing iPad but….the passport would be a very big issue … we would have to go to Madrid, to the US embassy there to apply for a new one AND that would take three weeks. 
The bad luck wasn’t quite over. That night, unbeknownst to me because of my super duper Walmart silicone earplugs until 2 am, Michael was ferociously sick, vomiting violently all night long. I think the last episode being around 0530. I had no idea what caused it because we had eaten exactly the same thing and I was fine. Our three angels at the albergue insisted we stay another night and let Mike sleep most of the day.. they would clean and organize around him as he slept. I, on the other hand, had to leave.  
Off I went, not dressed for the cold – armed with map and guide book. Within minutes I was totally lost without my trusty navigator (Michael). Seeing a woman walking by carrying a pack, I asked her if she was a “peregrino.” Indeed she was; Alicia arrived the night before from Menorca and spoke fluent English and Spanish. She became the next angel. She was headed for the cathedral and invited me to join. The cathedral was closed so she bought me a coffee and we sat in the freezing cold outside so she could have a smoke. She kept covering me up with her sweater. We went to the cathedral when it opened at 9am followed by another site, San Isadora, where I believe the Holy Grail is kept, but after that, she spent the rest of her time helping me by walking to the bus station, calling numbers for the bus line, the police (both in Mansilla and Leon), the Police lost and found ….. and so much more….she did so much for me. Finally, I bought her a smoothie before she had to catch her bus to Villafranca to start her Camino there, and returned to see how Michael was doing. He was weak but, much better than before. 
Leaving Leon the next day, Sunday, Michael wasn’t able to go much farther than 8km. We got a private room in a Hostal. Mike still wasn’t eating much and I wasn’t too hungry either, having caught another version of my cold and maybe a bit of Mike’s flu bug. The next morning we tried to call the embassy to talk to a human….no luck there – only got the message telling us to write an email. USELESS! That was Monday morning. 

We made the decision to walk on for two days, allowing time for the bag to be turned in. It had disappeared on the weekend when everything was closed…. maybe it still would be accounted for. With nothing else to do so we walked on, admittedly feeling despondent & considering throwing in the towel on this experience.
We walked and as we walked we started to feel better. We saw a sign asking, “Are you a pilgrim?” It was a rest area off the beaten path. Michael wanted to stop and I wanted to take pics of the stork’s nest on the church. What a delight. Fresh squeezed orange juice, chocolate, fresh fruit….lots of stuff all by donation. There we met are biggest angel of all, Manuel who ran the place, and Barbara, an angel who helped translate to Manuel what had happened. Manuel called all of the numbers that angel Alicia had written down for me, without luck. But, he wanted to know where we would stay that night, just in case something turned up; as he promised to ‘try’ again later. 
Although we had planned to stay at Villavente; we ended up staying only a short distance further at Villar de Mazariffe. We went for a snooze and at 645pm were woken by a knock on the door to tell us that there was a man waiting to see us. Mike went up first. By the time I got there, I saw Manuel from the rest stop in Oncina, giving Mike his bag, with all the contents intac. From what we could understand of the situation, the bus driver had found the bag, contacted the Leon police who contacted Manuel.

Tears began to flow as we learned that Manuel had driven his motorcycle all the way to Leon to pick up Mike’s bag….drove to the village where he thought we might be staying….Not finding us there, he stopped at every albergue on the way back until he found us!!! I still cry to think of his great kindness…without any expectation of reward….just for the sake of helping and giving. We bought him a beer and then we met our next angels, Renata and Sylvia from Brazil. We wanted to know the details of what had happened and asked them if they could translate. So we told the story in English to Renata, who translated it in Portuguese to her sister Sylvia, who in turn translated it into Spanish For Manuel and that’s how we found out all the details.
And that’s the Miracle of the Camino for us. 

Blisters, colds and rest days … 

As you walk the Camino there are two topics of conversations that crop up continuously… one is BLISTERS… the other REST DAYS… everyone has a story … this is ours…

35 Years!… It has been over 3 decades since I had a blister… Hell I thought I was immune. We hiked and hiked and hiked our butt’s off in preparation for the Camino… I had nary a hot spot. BUT Day 9 – I’ve got a painful blister on the ball of my foot… caused by sheer arrogance. I noticed the hotspot when we stopped in a little village 3 km from our ‘destination’… a quick fix and off we went. Could have stayed in that village but, no… had to press on. So, my reward for being pig-headed was a dime sized blister. The fix was to pierce the blister with needle & thread… leaving the thread in to facilitate draining as it healed…. build up the area around the site with moleskin – taking the pressure off the blister. 
Even with the ‘fix’ we had to cut the next day (day 10) short. By noon I was in enough pain to know I needed to rest my foot. The tiny village we stopped at had no Farmacia. When the hostess of the Albergue learned of my problem she left with a “momentito” and came back quickly with 3 feminine pads… in broken English she explained that other peregrinos had used them on the insoles of their shoes to cushion the blistered area. I was skeptical but foregoing my ‘macho’ instincts I took them with a quick “gracias”. Although skeptical, the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a good idea. I could modify the pad by cutting a ‘my blister’ sized hole, further relieving pressure. After several attempts at proper placement – i.e.- the hole was centered under the blister… it worked, brilliantly and would remain in my shoe until the blister was completely healed. I was back on track… a few km warm up and then I could work through the discomfort & into a regular rhythm.
All seemed on track as my blister healed. Day 12… Tilly walked while complaining of a ‘minor cold’. That morning 3 fellow peregrinos had taken the bus to Burgos ( the next large city) in order to get one of them to a doctor because her ‘minor’ cold gone major. Now it was Tilly’s turn…over the night she went into full blown suffering (as bad as any ‘man-flu’ I’ve ever had). It made no sense for her to walk 18 km into Burgos. Without objection (yes I win a few on occasion), I decided to reserve a hotel and then take the bus to Burgos. Only thing as we soon discovered, there was no bus service. Thanks to the charming & lovely owner of the local panderia [bakery] who offered to call a taxi from Burgos – a 20 minute wait, we arranged transport. Although I knew we would pay for both directions of travel it did not matter. Hell, we had paid through the nose to for a taxi in Paris to catch a bloody train … this was about Tilly … her health first, budget later. The driver arrived promptly. His skill and deftness at navigation had us to our hotel within 20 minutes. 
Arriving at 0920. I spoke to the receptionist… explaining that we were early, that Tilly was sick and I asked to leave our backpacks until we could check in. The receptionist looked at our reservation, said there was a bigger room available immediately for 20 euro more AND it faced the cathedral. 20 euros seemed a small extra to get Tilly into rest mode. Tilly was quickly ensconced in the huge master bed and asleep by 10:00. The outer room had a second smaller bed where I could sleep without concern of waking/disturbing her. She slept all that day and night only waking to have dinner. I took the time to wander the plazas around the cathedral… 
Next morning I was expecting a good recovery. Only a few minutes passed and I knew another day of rest was needed. The hotel was fully booked – a holiday weekend it seemed. I hoped on the iNet quickly booked another room in a highly rated hotel 1/2 a km away. Although it was not as big a room, it had two beds, comfortable and had the added benefit of being 1/3 less. Another day of rest.
Today was day 16 and with Tilly feeling better, we set out. The pace started slow, picked up and within 3 hours we had cranked out 10+ km. We stopped for a brief snack and refreshment. I could tell Tilly was not yet up to snuff. Even tho’ it was 70+ F she moved into the sun and complained of being cold. I knew it it was time to stop… we will walk again tomorrow…. increasing our distance in small amounts daily.  

MAGIC on the Camino

For us, the MAGIC started as soon as we began to dream of walking the Camino….making the final decision to do it, planning, preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually, and finally, setting off. From the very beginning, things just fell into place so naturally….so easily….a reaffirmation that we were on our “life path.” 

Now, starting week 4 of our long walk, the MAGIC keeps happening in all kinds of ways. MAGIC on the Camino is when:

– the sun rises behind you and gilds the window frames of the most mundane of buildings, making them sparkle with gold highlights, bringing them to life.

– you meet someone on the trail who is a reflection of something you don’t like about yourself, thus providing valuable insights into yourself and the time to ponder them.

– the “hospitalero” in one of our albergues who gave us “feminine pads” for our blisters which actually worked to our great surprise!

– a hawk soars overhead in the wind currents over the meseta.

– we reach our albergue just before the clouds part and the rain begins to fall in buckets

– having passed by most churches with “oohs” and “ahhhhs”, you pass Santa Maria del Camino in Carrion de los Condes, notice the open door and know without a doubt you have to go in. Once inside, the energy of this 12th century church with the music of Ave Maria playing and the many candles burning….was simply overwhelming for me. Why? I have no idea but it elicited much emotion. We sat there a good 30 minutes. The feelings stay with me, even now. Truly MAGICAL!

– the concept of “time” falls away. Time no longer drives your decisions. It literally falls away. It is truly MAGIC. We walk all day, sometimes plodding, sometimes marching, loitering, strolling, singing, laughing, intellectualizing, emoting…… time passes. We are fully in each and every moment. 

– decision-making also falls away. There are no decisions to make because when the need for a decision arises, the decision makes itself. For example, reaching Calzada de Coto today, there was an alternate scenic route to take which was along a dirt track. We wanted to take it but considered that the rain yesterday would have made it a very muddy track. We decided on the senda. When we set off this morning, I was feeling heavy in my mind….I was plodding along the senda, the path for pilgrims that follows the highway and the highway was busy – lots of diesel fumes and noise. We turned off to take the scenic route instead of staying on the senda as planned. Immediately, I was happier, lighter….my legs no longer plodding, a spring in my step. That was magic!!! There is no point in making plans or decisions – they are being made by a higher power!!

– your feet no longer hurt.

– you find coffee at just the right moment.

– you find out that they do make scrambled eggs in Spain and FINALLY learn how to order them in Spanish.

– you hear the sound of bells and see a shepherd, his dog, and a huge flock of sheep getting ready to cross the road in front of you…a magical photo opportunity.

– you finally discover that “Smell of Spain” you’ve been noticing along the way and asking everyone about is the anise seed growing wild along the roadways!

– you walk by a mercado and find pistachios and cheerfully crack, eat, and spit out shells as you walk, making the steps whiz by.

– you see this little silver tube on the ground. The you see it moving. It is a centipede, heading from my side of the road to Michael’s. You stop to watch as it meanders over and around objects blocking its path. You continue on and see 6 more in a short period of time. It leaves you asking, “Why are the centipedes crossing the road?” As yet, we have no answer for that!

– you walk the whole day threatened by rain but don’t have to break out the rain gear.

Magic on the Camino is the gift of being fully in each moment….appreciating and taking note of every new smell, taste, image, thought, and sound. The cares of your world fall away. You learn important things about yourself. Magic on the Camino is meeting fellow walkers from all over the world, sharing smiles, sharing meals, trying to communicate and laughing over the efforts. Magic on the Camino is being with the one you love, walking together in all conditions, learning the lessons that are there for you.

FASHION ON THE CAMINO

In good weather, layers are the best. Sleeveless first, then short-sleeved, followed by long sleeves. Strip as needed.

For cool windy days or for light rain, this wind jacket we bought last minute in Laramie WY has been a godsend!

When it rains steadily a poncho which covers everything, works the best. Shorts are best because bare legs dry much faster than leggings.

And when the rain stops, all you do is flip the front of the poncho back over your head where it can dry somewhat and allow you to cool off. That poncho kept me cozy and warm today for the first half of the day. The cap is a MUST as it keeps the raindrops off my glasses. The “mussar ” (scarf), my favourite from Oman, is also a MUST as it keeps your neck warm, soaks up sweat, dries quickly, and works as a blanket in the plane too. The little orange “baby wash-cloth” (thank-you Leah) is my “snot rag”. There’s already way too much tissue deposited all along The Way!

Today is Day 21. We are at the halfway point in Sahagun, just a few days before we get to Leon. We have had only one rainy day before today, earlier on in the walk. The MAGIC abounds on the Camino but that’s a whole other blog!!

6 DAYS OF WALKING

6 Days of walking, 115 km plus or minus a few, approximately 20 km/day. Here is a photo gallery of the best these 6 days had to offer.

Roncesvalles to Zubiri:

Elevation map

Breakfast at the pub.

Leaving Roncesvalles after breakfast just as the sun was rising.

Cows in the mists of early morning.


Day 3 Zubiri to Trinidad de Arre

Day 3 was a rainy day. We experienced a lot of “slippery slopes” and heard later that some poor soul had broken an ankle on said slippery slope. 

Always pretending but actually this time Michael was suffering from a sore knee.


 

I love cats. Michael doesn’t. When we stopped for coffee and to get out of the rain for a while, this cat popped up onto Michael’s lap looking for a handout.

These people were taking pictures of two young Korean men, one in a wheelchair, the other carrying a fully loaded pack, pushing the wheelchair. Our first lesson on the Camino…DON’T JUDGE! Imagine our surprise when later, the trail narrowed and became muddy, the young man in the wheelchair popped out of the chair and helped carry it quite a distance, walking quite nimbly. Apparently they are making a documentary about the accessibility of the Camino (or something like that.)

The bridge into Trinidad de Arre. We saw a 12th or 13th century convent/church and decided to stay there. Asked if they had a private room – they did. It was a beautiful building and we made some new friends who informed us that there was to be a fiesta that evening and bulls running in the street the next day.

Sure enough, there was a fiest that night with fireworks, music, food, and carnival rides. Before that though, we encountered this young man chasing an excited, screaming group of kids with his bull on wheels.

Day 4 Trinidad de Arre to Zaraquigui

Nearing Pamplona we walked around the walls of the old city.

….and through the gate into the city to search for a coffee.

Lunch break.

Day 5 Zaraquigui to Cerauqui

Our first taste of grapes – the harvest all around us.

At the top of the pass at Alto del Perdon. Spectacular!

Cerauqui where we stayed the night at the top of the hill!


Day 6 Cerauqui to Estella

The sun rising and illuminating the hills in the direction we were walking.

Such beautiful countryside. Constantly new vistas.