Octopus and Bagpipes – Oh, Galicia!!


Did you ever think of bagpipes when you thought of Spain?

I never did.

I thought of vineyards and museums. I thought of bullfights and oranges. I thought of the architecture of Barcelona and of paintings of Toledo.

I never, ever thought of bagpipes.

But, there they were. And I was loving every minute.

I had walked into town to find the “Ezequiel” restaurant, which is known for its octopus. Octopus – pulpo – is the regional specialty,  cooked, seasoned and cut into bite-size pieces.

Are you feeling squeamish, Dear Reader? My upbringing is Hispanic and eating octopus is not a new thing for me.

Plus, my Dad was an adventurous eater. Frogs legs? Check. Snails? Check. On those very rare occasions when Dad purchased those weird, almost unheard of foods (in Flushing in the 50’s), he could always count on me to tuck in my napkin and enjoy.

Chances were nil that I was going to pass up this regional specialty in its heartland.

I walked around in the sunshine, soaking up Melide, saying a rosary in the nearby grand Church, and searching for a grocery store to pick up a snack or two for the next day’s journey, which promised to take me through few towns.

I found a grocery and who should I see wandering the aisles but Christina.

She had settled into another albergue earlier and was also preparing for the next day. I told her about how I had tried to save her a bed at the Xunta and about my big mistake.

I would have to be on my very best behavior at the albergue that night to restore the honor of my country (no sneezing, snoring, coughing, getting in late, dropping things on the floor, taking up too much floorspace with my pack/poles/boots/clothes, etc.)

We laughed about what a strange and unexpected journey the Camino had turned out to be. It was still providing adventures and keeping us humble even though we were so very close to the end.

I told Christina that I was going to try to find the octopus restaurant and we decided to go together.

After a few wrong turns, we found the place, simple, unassuming, very local. It was relatively empty and the evening light reflected off the polished picnic tables and benches. It looked like a big BBQ shack, not a touted restaurant.

There was a big screen T.V. hung up on the wall with the news/weather/sports playing on the local channel. All this information had become irrelevant to me as a pilgrim.

We looked at the menu. Poor Christina. She immediately knew that she did not want octopus but the other choices were slim. She settled for salad. I admit it looked really good, especially on a greenery-deprived journey like the Camino.

I, however, dove in. I asked the waiter what the specialty was and ordered it, along with a nice cold beer. I didn’t know what to expect and was not completely ready for the plate put in front of me within minutes.


It was a pile of one-inch long pieces of octopus legs. Olive oil and a reddish seasoning were sprinkled all over. These were big octopus legs, not the small ones I was used to in the luscious black rice dishes of my family

These octopuses (Octopi? Nope, dictionary says octopi is very incorrect, so octopuses it is) were big suckers with big suckers. They looked like they could be doing tricks on a late night talk show. They could be twisting caps off jars. They could be unlocking their own cages. They could be scaring the bejeezes out of little kids in an aquarium.

And I had a plate full in front of me.

Well, millions of Spaniards had eaten these before me and raved, so I dug in.

I couldn’t say “tastes like chicken” because it had the rubbery texture of squid (Oh, come on, now you’re going to tell me you’ve never eaten calamari???). But the flavor was fantastic. The olive oil and seasoning was really good.

I polished off the plate very quickly, then ordered another. And ate it quickly, also.

Christina looked on pityingly. How crude to enjoy such disgusting food.  Then, we both laughed. Ah, Camino!!

Meanwhile, the restaurant had filled up. A rowdy group sat at the table in front of us and spilled over onto our table. We were all in a great mood. Suddenly, someone started singing. And playing. Playing what?

The traditional Galician instrument called the gaita. It looks and sounds like a bagpipe. I was told that the person at the table next to us, who was playing, had made this one himself and was carrying it on the Camino. I have no reason to doubt it.

The groups were as joyous as any I had met on my trip. Their happiness spread throughout the front section of the restaurant and I would have joined in if I had known the song  and spoken the language.


The restaurant manager encouraged the music and the songs continued.

Eventually, a bottle of homemade Spanish ‘grappa” appeared from the back of a shelf and we were asked if we would like a glass. How could we say no?


Excellent, burning heat slipped smoothly down my throat.

The meal, the music, the drink. One of the memorable meals on the Camino.

By the way, are you wondering how to cook pulpo? Get coolers full from the fish monger. Put them in boiling water. And, then . . .


As I Fall Asleep

IMGP4500I hear the gentle snoring of people falling asleep.

I hear grown men in bunk beds laughing uncontrollably like school boys at summer camp, one softly saying a word that sends the others into giggling fits. Then the other whispers something that leads to even stronger bed-shaking hilarity. On and on. I know tears flood their eyes – they are hysterical yet trying soooo hard not to wake anyone  up.

I hear the creaking of  upper bunk beds and mentally assess how new the beds are and the weight of my own upper bunkmate.

I hear women snoring. Yes, it happens.

I hear sleeping bag zippers being zipped slowly to not disturb people. Unfortunately, like undoing velcro, it can’t be done silently.

I recall the sound and sight of a group of gray-haired, slow-moving grandmothers laughing uproariously like teenagers, in the showers at the end of the day.

I smell the sickly sweet odor of that God-awful ointment that someone is rubbing on their feet and calves. Do they know how horrible it smells? I will never get that “fragrance” out of my brain.

I smell the body odor of those who don’t wash themselves and/or their clothes.

I hear the soft pad of bare feet on the tile floor as people head into bed after lights out.

I hear the loud clunk of something accidentally falling out of an upper bunk in the dimness as a person tries to roll over.

I hear the echo of a group talking and laughing down the hall in the living area.

I see the light of someone reading an e-book in bed.

I hear the very soft scratch of someone writing in a journal.

I see soft twilight still glowing at 1030 at night. For a night owl like me, it is perfection and I smile.


Goldilocks and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Situation

[Continued from the previous post – if you haven’t read “No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story,” you might want to read that first]

The problem slowly became clear to me.

The young pilgrim wasn’t especially annoyed at me, but I had messed up, without a doubt. There was no one to blame but me. I had caused a major problem.

Can you see it? Please say no.


Maybe now? Experienced pilgrims are slapping their foreheads at my stupidity.


I had to look a dozen times before I saw my mistake.


The day before, the Xunta was small (20 beds) and the friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt, telling me not to lose it since it was my proof I belonged there. This day, the not-as-friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt and waved me along.

I hadn’t noticed that I was assigned a specific bed in a specific section of the building.

I had just put my pack down in a good location, as everyone had routinely done when arriving at an albergue since Day One (I add, defensively).

Today was the first and only day it would be different. I had unknowingly taken this guy’s bed.

I can’t imagine the domino effect I must have caused when he got to his assigned space, saw me dozing peacefully,  and said to himself, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed – and THERE SHE IS NOW!”

As my error flashed into my brain, I instantly offered to vacate and go downstairs, tail between my legs, and ask for another available “cama.” He graciously declined my offer since he had already gotten another bed.

I desperately showed him my tickets and explained in my broken Spanish that I hadn’t known I had been assigned a bed, based on my experience the night before.

I don’t think he really cared. I was so apologetic, though, that he may have begun to feel sorry he had brought it up.

Did he feel badly about how badly I felt at my mistake?  Did he really excuse my mistake? Or did he think I was just another arrogant and/or stupid American (had he seen the American flag sewn on my backpack)?  I was mortified and humiliated. How could I have been so dumb to not have seen the markings on the receipt and ask questions?

After walking for more than four weeks and 700 kilometers, I still didn’t know what I was doing.

I had a loooong talk with my Saints that night.


If it’s any consolation to that unknown pilgrim whose bed I inadvertently took, a pilgrim came later that afternoon to the upper bunk. He had a “bed bug” sheet with him to prevent bugs from getting to him and I helped him slip the cover on his mattress.

This was the first time during the trip that I had thought about bed bugs in albergues, even though it was a common thread in the on-line forums I’d studied in preparation for my trip.

My infestation-obsessed bunkmate climbed up into his bed later that evening, having spent a raucous night on the town.

I, however, tossed and turned all night long, imagining that every itch and scratch was a you-know-what crawling on me and into my pack.

It was all in my imagination. The only souvenirs I brought home from my trip were all bought and paid for.

But the Camino (St. Julian, I’m looking at YOU) continued to keep me humble.

No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story

The walk to Melide was easy and uneventful.

As I neared the city, I was surprised and amused to see that the tall apartment houses I had seen from the distance were surrounded by meadows where sheep, goats and horses grazed. I imagined it would be nice to look out your apartment window and see a flock of sheep where a parking lot would otherwise be.

I knew that Christina was somewhere behind me and would probably need a place to stay. We hadn’t talked about it when we had separated but I assumed she would stay in the municipal albergue, which was where I was headed.

I found the albergue on the other side of town – a large, modern building, very clean and well-kept. It was spacious, could hold more than 150 pilgrims without feeling too crowded, and only cost €6 per night. I had to wait a bit before the hospitalera arrived, although some pilgrims had already checked in.

I liked the municipal albergues, called “Xunta” in Galicia. The only drawback was that the ones I’d stayed in had beautiful, modern and spacious kitchens with no pots, pans, or cooking and eating utensils. I never saw anyone use the kitchens, not even to boil water.

I suppose that is why they were so sparkling clean.

The day before, I had asked the hospitalera why there were no pots and pans in the Xunta kitchens. She suggested that the “less prayerful” hospitaleros walked off with the equipment so often that the municipales stopped replacing them.

Times are tough all over.

I signed in at the Xunta, got my receipt (as I had for the other Xuntas), and walked upstairs, meeting pilgrims heading downstairs for the showers and laundry on the ground floor.

I found a quiet corner by a window facing away from the main street. I put my things on a bottom bunk and put some things on the bed across from me to save a spot for Christina when she arrived.

I showered, washed my clothes and found space to hang them to dry on the short clothesline outside (definitely not enough space for 150 pilgrims to hang their clothes). I decided to take a short nap.

I must have really slept soundly because when I awoke, about an hour later, all the beds around me were taken.

Including the one I had set aside for Christina and not by Christina.

I was sad but not annoyed. Camino etiquette dictates that beds can’t be saved for people who haven’t arrived. This mainly applies in small albergues where beds are limited, but it is the unspoken rule everywhere so I couldn’t be upset at having my things moved off the bed.

But I had messed up more than I realized.

As I rose and prepared to walk around town to find a recommended restaurant for dinner, a young pilgrim approached and began to speak  urgently in Spanish.

I couldn’t understand a word he said but I knew he was telling me something very important. We walked into the sitting area and, as he and I struggled to understand each other, the horrible and embarrassing truth began to dawn on me.

[To Be Continued]

Dads and Oranges – Day 38 – Eirexe to Melide, part two


I’m a sucker for cute old men with something to show me.

I was enjoying my last days on the Camino. I had left my Camino family member, Christina, back in the albergue about an hour earlier, since she was just getting packed as I was heading out the door.

A very unusual situation for us.

But I knew we would catch up with each other before our travels ended. She had a ticket to fly back to the States in about a week and, once out of the albergue, she would be focused.

I, however,  was free to dawdle.

My daily routine had settled into enjoying a steaming, sweet, cafe con leche and a croissant about an hour after I started walking every morning. That way, I could get the cobwebs out of my eyes, get all the joints working, and get some distance before my first stop of the day.

But there were not many cafes on this part of the Camino. I had walked for 7 kilometers and was anxious to find a place for breakfast.

I approached the town of Palas de Rei, which seemed especially white and gleaming. The streets were empty because I had missed the early morning rush hour and the pilgrims who had stayed in the albergues in town had already left.

As I walked along, lost in thought and on the lookout for a cafe, a gentleman came up to me on the right. He began talking to me in Spanish and, though my language skills had improved over the weeks, I clearly needed coffee to kick those skills into high gear because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

But it may have been that he was speaking Galician, a Spanish dialect that is different from Castilian, the Spanish taught in American schools and spoken around my grandparents’ houses.

Eventually I caught what he was saying. “Are you hungry? Would you like coffee?”

The last time an old man had approached me and offered something, it had turned out well. It had been a few weeks earlier and I had been able to fill my pockets with cherries, my mouth with cookies, and my camera with photos.

It had taught me a Camino lesson – keep your guard up but take a chance when something is offered on the Camino. The benefits usually outweigh the risks.

Remember, this is a pilgrimage. The Saints have your back.

I looked the gentleman in the eye and saw earnestness and honesty. I couldn’t imagine where this would lead but sensed benefit, not disaster.

I followed him down the street. We walked about a block (downhill and I realized I’d have to trudge back uphill to return to the Camino) and then turned into a pristine, but empty, cafe.

In the front window was a pool table, then a folding screen, then the bar area. The room was sparsely decorated, as if still in the setting-up phase. The walls were white and the ceiling was high, which increased the spacious feeling. There were half as many tables and chairs as could easily have filled the space.

The impression was of a clean and well cared for cafe, waiting for customers to arrive.

I was the only customer there, but not the only person. Behind the counter was a young woman who smiled. I heard activity in the kitchen.

I asked for a cafe con leche, which can be found everywhere on the Camino, but didn’t see any bread. I asked if they had a croissant or something similar. “Tiene usted un croissant o pan como algo?” I sputtered. The woman replied that they didn’t have croissants but they had toast.

On the Camino, many cafes and bars offer toast and coffee as a standard breakfast menu, so this was very fine for me. Picture a toasted baguette, not a toasted  slice of white sandwich bread, with lots of butter, jelly, and sometimes honey. I ordered coffee, toast, and orange juice. I took off my backpack and took out my phone and guidebook.

The juice was fresh squeezed, as was all the orange juice I bought in bars on the Camino.


I had lingered in many bars in the mornings, watching automatic juicers squeeze orange juice out of freshly cut oranges.

The barman or woman would open a mesh bag of oranges, slice two or more in half, and drop each half down a chute in the top. The halves would be pressed between two rollers and a waterfall of  juice would come out the bottom and go directly into the glass, the peel falling into a container.

The barkeepers always used enough oranges to fill a good-sized glass. These oranges were bred for juicing – they were 99% liquid.

This orange juice was cold and just sweet enough to stick in my mind forever as the gold standard for orange juice.


I ate before I realized I wanted to take a photo. Sorry. The orange juice was delicious.

This cafe/bar was, in fact, relatively new – it had just opened the November before. The daughter, who was the woman behind the counter, had recently opened it as an albergue and cafe for pilgrims on the Camino. There were beds upstairs, although by that hour all the pilgrims had left.

She was making a go of this new business and her mother, who had made my toast in the kitchen, and her father, who had snagged me on the road, were helping her. Her parents owned another place on the other side of town. I imagine that they helped her out financially, also, which perhaps was why they were there.

The daughter told me that, like many bars on the Camino, they would be open until the late hours of the evening. This explained the pool table in the front.

I gained a new appreciation for the father standing on the corner, selling pilgrims on the idea of stopping for a bite to eat. The location of this bar, just off the beaten path, did not work in their favor.  But the food was very good, the service warm and friendly, and the prices perfect.

I left about an hour later, having eaten and rested, and another pilgrim having arrived (Dad had been pounding the pavement again). This place, Cafe Bar Santirso,  deserved more traffic and I would be happy to stop there again on my next Camino Frances.



To put icing on the cake, Dad showed me a shortcut back to the Camino, no hill climbing needed.  Maravilloso!

Back on the road, I continued towards Melide. Had Christina passed me? Probably. Would I find her in Melide? Probably not, it is a city with many albergues.

But I knew I would see her and Andres and Juan Carlos, my Camino family, soon, although I didn’t know where or how.


A Time to Rap – Day 38 – Eirexe to Melide, part one


Is it excitement? Anxiety?

For whatever reason, I wake up early, pack up, and leave the albergue as Christina is waking up. I can’t wait. I need to get on the road.

You know by now that Christina, the boys, and I – my Camino family – share our fondness, no, our need, to sleep late on the Camino. So this is very unusual for me.

But the sun is shining, the mist is disappearing off the fields, and I can’t stay in bed any longer. By now it takes me only about 15 minutes to go from bed to packed and out the door. Quite an achievement.


The municipal albergue looks basic on the outside but was very clean and modern on the inside. The hospitaleros were friendly and we talked for at least an hour the night before.

The Saints have me covered. The Camino consistently provides what, and who, I need. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Every day is filled with more joy and adventure than I could ever have expected.

I would meet Christina later today, somewhere, somehow. We hadn’t spoken about meeting up but I know we will.

I walk through tiny, rural towns, with chickens nonchalantly crossing the road to get to the other side. Horses lazily swish their tails as they watch me follow the yellow arrows down the lane between houses.

Dogs bark in the distance and I pass new cars parked in old converted stone stables next to quiet stone houses.

I am invisible and I don’t disturb these scenes. I photograph them in my mind and will remember them forever.

I pass small village parks and picnic areas made  ready for the passing pilgrims, with fresh, cold running water and well-trimmed lawns and hedges. Rustic towns and villages show their surprisingly cosmopolitan edges.

Local people might seem to be of another world but they are surely part of mine and I am the newcomer. Their worldliness makes me smile and I shake my head at my own biases and incorrect assumptions.

I wasn't expecting to seee this in a rural park along the Camino.

I wasn’t expecting to see these sculptures in a rural park along the Camino. This picnicker is enjoying an early breakfast surrounded by . . . nature.

I walk past an encampment of tents, the first time I’ve seen tents on the Camino.

I will later learn that they belong to an Irish Church youth group whose leaders take about 20 young people on this section of the Camino every year. They arrange with a local tour guide who sets up their daily camping spots and who goes ahead with the van carrying packs and food.

The young people walk from camp site to camp site and set up when they meet the van. They have dinner, talk, sleep, and breakfast and breakdown the site each morning. It explains all the young people racing up the hillsides laughing and singing. I thoroughly enjoy their exuberance and energy and absorb their excitement.


I hear two of them coming up behind me on a rocky, narrow wooded path. They are singing rap songs at the top of their lungs. There are other pilgrims going uphill and they are passing them all.

Dappled shades of green color the rocks as the sun shines through the new leaves. Birds are singing and there may even be a stream nearby. But the rappers closing in on me from behind present me with a dilemma.

Can I ask them to stop singing?

I don’t mind singing, I don’t mind rapping. But here, in this setting, it seems inappropriate. If I ask them to quiet down, will I just be an old fogey? Will they ignore me and keep on doing what they’re doing? Will they give me a hard time? Do I just forget it and let them sing their way into the future? Am I asking for trouble?

Their fast approach demands a decision on my part.

They climb on the rocks next to me, rapping away (I don’t think they understand the lyrics, either). They clearly have no clue that they are being so loud. I smile and nod.

Then I say, smiling, “Por favor, como un iglesia (Please, like a Church),” as I indicate the surrounding woods with a nod. I don’t know what language they speak so I go with Spanish. With my clothes and my pack, they can clearly see that I am a pilgrim who has been in it for the long haul.

They look at me, look at each other, and continue walking and singing.

Then, within 10 steps, they stop singing as if on cue. They don’t say a word as they silently hop from rock outcropping to outcropping on the trail. The birds and, yes, a stream, become the music of the Camino once more.

I thank Big Tess for giving me the guts to ask for quiet and risk being seen as a cranky old person who doesn’t like new music.

I also silently thank the adult leaders of this youth group who have created a considerate, friendly and cheerful group of young pilgrims. In a few hours I will meet up with one of the leaders and I will tell him of the incident and will point out the boys involved. I will tell him how impressed I was with the consideration and respect the boys had for the Camino and for me!

He gives me a little of their background, where I learn they’re Irish, they camp, etc. I again tell him that the boys are a credit to the group and to their leaders and they should be proud. I want to make sure the leader understands that the boys behaved well.

He does and is happy.


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.