What Are YOU Waiting For?


” . . . What then? Shall we sit idly down and say,

The night has come; it is no longer day??

The night hath not yet come; we are not quite

cut off from labor by the failing light.

Something remains for us to do or dare

(Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear) –

Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,

or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode 

out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn –

But other something, would we but begin.

For age is opportunity, no less

than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away

the sky is filled with stars,

invisible by day.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamos”,  1874


This Time Last Year


My DH and I were a few months away from celebrating 38 wonderful years of marriage. The children were grown and our lives had taken us to many places around the world, places I had never dreamed I would see, much less live in. We had recently moved to another country and were enjoying the adventure of getting settled. We were working on where to store Christmas items in our new apartment.

But I had other plans also and I knew they wouldn’t include him. I was going to walk the Camino Frances soon.

I didn’t know exactly when or how. I didn’t know exactly where. I especially didn’t know why.

I hadn’t made any transportation arrangements because I had no clue how to get from where I was to where I thought I might need to be. I didn’t believe in hiking poles – too dorky. I was a good (what’s good about it?) twenty pounds overweight and I’m being kind. I didn’t have hiking boots.

The only thing I had going for me was that I liked walking although I sometimes found it boring.

I had decided to walk the Camino Frances and I had broken the news to my DH just after Thanksgiving. Would he be OK with it? It would cost us money and time. Lots of time but I had no clue  how much.

Not even my children really knew what I was up to.

“Mom’s thinking about going for a long walk.” What did that mean???

You don’t choose the Camino. It chooses you. And I had been chosen. But try to explain that to people who want to know why you want to walk across the top of Spain.

The ancestry of the Camino Frances sits squarely on a pilgrimage. But I’d never been religious enough to feel drawn to religious sites. I’d never felt compelled to visit places noted for miracles. And my life was relatively happy – no need to do penance or suffer to set things straight.

I was an older woman, inactive for many, many years, suddenly possessed by an idea that no one I knew had ever done before or even heard of.

It was time to give this some serious thought.

Mr. Coffee, Meet Mr. Taxi – Day 28 – Leon


La Torre is slightly off the beaten path in Arcahueja.

Continuing into Leon, I stopped at a small but well-known bar and albergue, “La Torre,” to get some food and drink. It was the middle of the day and it was hot and dry. I was the only person in the small bar, which suited me fine. The hospitalero was friendly and welcoming and there was toilet paper in the WC.

Life is good.

I had already had several friendly encounters that day.

First thing that morning, I had come to a bar for my morning coffee and croissant only to discover that the bar was in crisis. Their coffee maker, the big gleaming metal machine found in every cafe, capable of spurting individual cups of foamy cafe con leche in under a minute, was broken. This was a major problem because the line of pilgrims looking for their morning “cuppa joe” was just beginning.

But the machine was broken. Fini. Kaput. Nada. No coffee, no milk, No happy pilgrims.

The owners came up with the best solution they could on short notice on a Saturday.

They had a small Mr. Coffee and a carton of milk and they apologetically splashed hot coffee into cup after cup as pilgrims came into the bar in a steady stream.

A month ago, I wouldn’t even have noticed. Now, after almost a month on the road, Mr. Coffee seemed completely out of place. I knew, in my heart, that there was no way this would be an “authentic” cup of cafe, but I felt the pain of the hospitaleros as they made pot after pot of coffee, running out and then having to wait while the next pot brewed. At least the coffee wasn’t sitting on the hot plate for long.

I had my coffee (coffee, not cafe, it made a difference to me), wished them luck, and continued walking.


Tiny raneros

Shortly after, I met a local man who was out for his morning stroll. He stopped and wished me a very fine morning. It had been a long time since a local had given a greeting that was more than just a smile and a nod. We had a short conversation in my very halting Spanish and I felt good as I continued walking.

Walking along a stream, I heard a familiar sound. This time, I stopped and really looked. Yes, there! I finally saw one of those elusive raneros I had heard about from Carlos days earlier when we left El Burgo Ranero. So small but such a big sound!


I encounter a local eager to chat even if we didn’t speak the same language.

Continuing, I met another local women out for a walk. Her friendly greeting and smile warmed me like the sun and we began to chat. She asked questions about where I was from, how long I had walked, where I was going? She asked if my clothes were comfortable, was everything in my backpack, was it heavy?

I learned that most of the pilgrims she ran into on this part of the Camino, which ran through her neighborhood, didn’t look approachable. Their heads were down, their eyes shaded, they determinedly planted their hiking poles with each step, They all seemed focused on getting one foot in front of the other and she never felt comfortable interrupting them with conversation.

But, oh, the questions she wanted to ask. Why are you walking? What have you seen so far? What are the people like? Where do you sleep? My answers were as complete as I could make them. I asked how long had she lived here? Had she ever walked the Camino? What is Leon like?  She herself had never walked the Camino and now she felt she was too old.

Other pilgrims passed us as we talked. Our chat lasted for at least 30 minutes. We laughed, noting our similarities and differences. Eventually, we went our separate ways, wishing each other a “Buen Camino.”

Now it was lunch time (OK, early lunch, I still needed a real cafe fix) and I was at La Torre. The simple menu appealed to me. I decided it was too hot and late in the day for coffee and went the beer route. The hospitalero saw me wipe sweat from my forehead as I dropped my pack outside and he asked whether I would like an ice-cold frosty glass for my beer. My eyes teared up in joy.


The hospitalero at La Torre was ready with a fast taxi, a cold beer, whatever.

Bliss was mine as I sat outside in the shade and ate a tortilla (not as good as Sinin’s, whose I mentioned in an earlier post, but not bad) and washed it down with the iciest beer I’d had in a loooong while.

Karen, a nurse from Australia, and another pilgrim, a young woman from Germany, arrived at the bar. They were tired and thirsty. Karen was limping heavily and as soon as she sat down she began massaging ointment onto her knees.

It was at least another eight kilometers to Leon. They considered their limited options and finally decided to try to find a ride into the city.

They didn’t speak any Spanish so I offered to try to arrange transportation. I haltingly asked the hospitalero if there was a taxi available (I hadn’t seen any cars in the village) and he told me that he had a relative who had a taxi and could take us into Leon.

I hadn’t thought of going along for the ride.

I told Karen that a taxi would be available and the cost would be reasonable if it was split. After some back and forth – did they want to take this taxi, how much would it cost, when could it come to pick them up – business was settled and soon a clean, new van parked in front of the bar. I used my “Espanol muy primitivo” to check the arrangements for the women.

They asked me to ride along. They even offered to pay in return for my helping them.

I thought about it. There was not a cloud in the sky, which meant that the sun was really burning down. Siesta time was approaching and the roads would be devoid of people. Taking the taxi would get me to Leon in 20 minutes instead of 3 hours. Having walked about 430 kilometers straight, there would be no shame in taking a 20 minute taxi ride.

Yet, I declined their offer, breaking my new rule of always accepting what is offered. Getting into a vehicle at that point seemed as out of place as, well, drinking a cup of Mr. Coffee. My mind was on walking, slowly, carefully, strongly. Let the adventures find me along the road as planned.

I saw them drive away, slightly regretting my choice as I thought about how quickly they would be in the city and how much trudging l had ahead of me.

The beer was no longer cold, the tortilla was finished. I said “adios” to my hospitalero friend, hoisted up my backpack, and headed out.


Approaching the suburbs of Leon

Ole! Or How I Became a (Gulp) Kind of Fan of Bullfighting – Day 23 – Terradillos to Sahagun

Dear Reader, please don’t get your panties in a knot.

There are two things I know to be true about bullfighting:

a.) Bullfighting is growing in unpopularity in those countries where it is most popular – Spain, Mexico, some Central and South American countries.

b.) It is firmly planted in Spanish culture.

And I suddenly had the chance to see a bullfight in Sahagun.

I had arrived in Sahagun early. I had been hearing about the festival of San Juan de Sahagun and seeing posters about the bullfight for several days. In Fromista, a local resident had thrust a flyer in my hand, urging me to see the bullfight since I was heading for Sahagun.


Poster along the Way.

My initial reaction was – Ugh! Bullfighting is a blood sport. The bull doesn’t stand a chance, doomed the moment it sets hoof in the ring.  Why would I want to watch someone put an animal to death and see a crowd cheer about it? Sounds like dogfighting or bear-baiting. Sounds like boxing. Bloody.  Or hunting.

However, as I neared Sahagun, I thought about contradictions.

The local people I had met along the way were extremely kind and benevolent towards their children, their gardens, and their pets. Many of them spoke out against bullfighting with passion. The person who had put the flyer in my hand was the only person who seemed to actively advocate seeing a bullfight.

On the other hand, many towns along the Camino have bullrings. And the feast of San Fermin, featuring the “running of the bulls,” is known around the world, in spite of the many tales of unhappy endings,

I try not to judge a book without reading it and a movie without viewing it. How could I judge a cultural icon without seeing it.

I found a bed in a convent in Sahagun, had dinner (“. . . algo para comer con mi cerveza??”) and walked to the bullring.


The entrance

The ticket was surprisingly inexpensive. I was one of the first to arrive. The ring was dry and hot, with concrete seats all around.

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Water would keep the dust down

The shady side of the ring filled up first. The crowd was made up of people of all ages – young people on dates, old men with their cronies, teenagers goofing together, moms with strollers and toddlers,


All sitting in the shade

Local organizations each had their own marching bands and each sat in a different section of the stadium, wearing the group’s color.

The parade began, Not the dramatic parade I expected. No, these were just local people, representing their local organizations, wearing the color of their organization – red, blue, green, yellow –  and jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts. Nothing fancy, although the clowns were dressed elaborately. But these simple, local people would fight the bulls.

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The crowd cheered as the parade began with the organization whose color was pink.

They all bowed to the center box, where the mayor sat. Each group went to a section nearest their group and casually waited. They shared stories and drinks with the spectators who were within a foot of where they stood. They joked with each other and with the crowd, their fans chanting and playing songs.

Finally, the bull entered. I got nervous. These guys seemed totally unprepared to do anything except run. They did not seem prepared to challenge a bull, even a  young ones. This bull was big and fast.

Then, the first fighter strode to the center of the ring and began to provoke the bull. He got closer and closer to the bull, waving his cape, daring him to charge. The young man had polish and courage, which made his encounter with the bull mesmerizing. The bull was unpredictable.



As I watched the two in the ring, I was drawn in and began to feel the excitement that the town had come for. This wasn’t about blood. It was about style and fearlessness in the face of breathtaking odds. It was about physical and mental agility.  It was about valor and danger. The bull would act. The man would react. Finally, the bull charged. The man pirouetted out of the way, cape fluttering over the bull’s head. OLE!


Again and again, closer and closer, the young man teased and taunted.  He stared at the bull with an intensity that silenced the crowd. He moved out of the way just enough to brush the sleek black hair of the passing bull.

The young man stayed in the ring for a long time,  gracefully moving aside, sweeping the cape over the bull’s back. When his time was up, he accepted the applause of the spectators. No killing, no poking. No gory ending.

And so it went. Old men showed that they, too, had style and courage.


Young women – didn’t I mention women? –  showed their exuberance and daring.


And, although there were some close encounters . . .




. . . everyone walked away to the sounds of cheering crowds made up of friends, family and neighbors (and pilgrims). There were no attempts to harm the bull in any way, And people cheered the bull, also.

Here is what I learned. I learned that there are more ways to “fight” bulls than I had suspected. What I thought of as bull fighting is more like a game of “chicken” played with a bull instead of a car and with flair and panache.

I still do not want to see a bull getting killed. I do not like to watch boxing. And I understand hunting, but I wouldn’t enjoy it.

But I learned to not be so quick to judge the cultural norms of others. Between black and white, there are many shades of gray.


I’m an Angel Because I Have Duct Tape – Day 10 – Los Arcos to Viana

Usually, the rain has the decency to wait until I have been on the road a few minutes before starting the daily downpour but today it begins before I wake up. 


Trudging through the mud, I wonder for a few moments if my legs are getting stronger because the load on my pack seems normal and my strides are more certain. But the wind starts blowing against me and I begin the daily struggle to make progress on the muddy track.

The Camino never goes around a mountain it can go over. Up and down, sliding down rocky hills, always wet. Repeat, repeat.

Then, up ahead, I see a young man on the side of the road sitting on a rock. As I get closer, I see he is wrapping thin athletic tape around his hiking pole. 

Are you OK? Do you need something? 

Usually the answer is that there is no problem, someone is just adjusting their poncho or tying their shoelaces.

This time, the young man looks at me and says yes, he is having a problem. His hiking pole has stopped telescoping and he can’t use it anymore.

Since you, dear reader, have probably never used a hiking pole, let me give you a short course on the virtues of hiking poles.

They saved my Camino more times than I can count in the first week alone. In Germany, you see them  used  mainly by old people, striding confidently along in a public park. Or on a public trail. occasionally on the sidewalk. But the important phrase here is, “old people.”

Therefore, most young people tend to shy away from these simple sticks (or high-speed high-tech sticks).

They soon learn that not using hiking poles can be a big mistake.

Maximilian, a strapping young man ready to enter the Academy, found out that using poles would reduce the intense pain in his knees caused by going down the endless and slippery paths on the Camino. He was lucky – his knees were recovering because he bought poles shortly after feeling the never-ending ache in his knees.

Now, one of his poles had died on him, too early, and he was trying desperately to give it some new life until he could replace it in the next town.

In the last minute preparation for my Camino, DH had wrapped a length of duct tape around a golf pencil and we had added it to my pack. Now, like my Voltaren, it would be called to serve.

Using my most used accessory, the little baby fingernail scissors, we carefully wrap and cut a length of duct tape which repairs his hiking pole.

He calls me his Camino Angel.

Thank you, DH.

Day 4 – Pamploma to Uterga

I had heard that the walk from Pamploma to Puerta de la Reina would be difficult, especially in bad weather, so I was worried. The hike wasn’t too bad in the beginning, though, and when I asked a shopkeeper if she thought I should continue to the other side of the mountain or call it a day there (it was about 11a.m.), she said I should continue. 

I am glad that I did. I hadn’t realized that at the top of this mountain stood the famous bronze statue of the peregrinos making their windy way along the Camino. I had not recognized the long line of wind turbines along the ridge.

 About 500 meters from the top, I caught a glimpse of the bronzes and realized where I was. This was one of the first true landmarks along the Camino that is well known and recognized, and I felt happy and energized.

At the top, the first person who greeted me was a vendor who was selling drinks and food. Usually I would have bought something but I had just had a drink from the village below. 

There were some “touregrinos” there also taking pictures of each other at the top.

What is a “touregrino”?

This is the name given to people who do the Camino the easy way. They usually send their suitcases  (yes, some have the wheeled kind) ahead with a tour company to the hotel or albergue they have reserved ahead of them. They travel with day packs. My friend from the train from Paris to St. Jean, Antoine, told me of the saying, “The smaller the pack, the larger the shell.”

The scallop shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrim and many people buy one and put it on their packs at the start of their trip. The saying Antoine shared about the size of the pack means that people who travel the easy way, not carrying their full packs, moving uphill with lively steps, clearly in good health, seem to buy the biggest, gaudiest shells to put on their tiny day packs. 

Typical tourist style.

No one on the Camino resents the use of transports for those who are old, infirm, injured, etc.  but if you are fit, well, you must understand if you don’t get a cheerful “Buen Camino” from someone wearily lugging their 2-4-6 weeks worth of worldy goods steeply uphill, someone who knows that no comfortable bus waits to take them along smooth roads to the next hotel and a good meal.

And the touregrinos travel in groups. Tour groups.

However, this group was so happy about making it to the top that I couldn’t help but feel happy for them. I took their pictures for them, they did the same for me, and then they were off, gliding down to the foothills.

I stopped at the first albergue I found, a nice one with an outdoor patio, although it was too cold for being outside, and free wifi.

I Skyped my DD and checked my email.

Juan Carlos showed up and I was surprised, since he had left Pamploma quite a bit before me. He was limping a little because he had gotten tendonitis. He declined an offer to stay at that albergue because he had given his sleeping bag to someone else to carry and he had to go on to the next town so he could sleep.

Kerstin and Honey, two of the German women i had been traveling with, showed up and stayed. They ate the Pilgrim meal and said it was great. But, at 12 euros, I felt uncomfortable spending that much money and had not reserved a spot. I felt badly afterwords because 1) they had waited for me at dinner and 2) they said it was really good, with lots of wine. 

I had a good sleep on a bottom bunk.