Hellooooooooo? Anyone There???


Remembering Sinin’s tortilla. YUMM!

Dear Reader,

Sorry for not posting lately.

I’ve had out of country visitors for almost four weeks, then I was out of the country, and next week more out of country visitors!!!

All beloved and happily received and anticipated family and friends.

However, all the visiting has kept me away from the blog. Only physically, though. Mentally, I am in Spain and arriving at Santiago within days.

In fact, I’m heading out the door to give another Camino talk as I write this mini-blog (forgive any typos). I’m always excited to tell people about my trip and to relive the adventures as I remember my dear Camino family.

So, thank you for staying with me, catch up on your reading if you haven’t read some of my posts, and I am (sadly) looking forward to the last days of my Camino adventure.



Day 35 – Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria

Since Juan Carlos, Andres and I had spent the night in our own house, we slept as late as we wanted and were out on the road when we felt like it – 0830.


We hung around the village to return the landlady’s house key and thank her for a great stay in a nice home. As we lingered over breakfast, who should wander up but Christine, our Camino family member who had decided to stay someplace else the night before (missed out on those Spanish movie musicals, tsk, tsk).

Then, we were off. Up, up and away.


The walk to O’Cebreiro was challenging but not impossible. The weather was great – I began to wonder if I had seen the last of my wet Camino and should consider zipping the bottoms off my pants. But I also knew we were entering one of the wettest regions of Spain, so, no.

Juan Carlos kept me laughing as he continually underestimated the distance we had to walk – two kilometers when it was actually four, four kilometers when it was ten!!


Welcome to Galicia.

The countryside reminded me of weeks earlier when I had been a novice pilgrim, making my way through the rolling hills of Navarra.  Alone, alert to the yellow arrows  along the way, I remembered the vineyards I walked through and the mud.

I remembered looking through rain dripping off the brim of the baseball cap I wore under my rain jacket hood as I tried to keep my glasses dry and fog free.


I remembered the determination as pilgrims, strangers to each other, encouraged each other to the top of the hill which we promised was just around the bend up ahead, and which never was.

Now I was dry and following the arrows was second nature.

I no longer noticed my backpack anymore than you, dear reader, notice the shirt you are wearing right now.

These strangers whom I was walking with could crack the right jokes to make me laugh out loud. I knew I would be missing them all too soon.

We crossed into Galicia and found the stone markers that would lead us the final kilometers to Santiago. Was it possible? Were there really only that many kilometers to go?? Had I really walked all that distance? I still felt so good!


O’Cebreiro was beautiful, an unexpectedly active village on the top of a mountain, full of pilgrims and souvenir shops.

I was told that the church, Santa Maria la Real, was said to have held a relic of the original Crucifix. I prayed accordingly, wondering if my Saints had traveled with me all this distance so they could get to this place. I told them I was grateful for all the help they had given me on this journey.


About 15 minutes later I learned that, um, no, there weren’t any cross relics here.

Wrong legend.

It was the resting place for Don Elias Valina Sampedro, (1929 – 1989). He was the parish priest who gave birth to the modern Camino, as a way to help his tiny little parish.


He knew his village was on the route of the ancient Camino and wanted to try to bring people back to, or at least through, the village. He brought his idea to the local leaders and they said OK, but you’re on your own. So, he went to the public works guys who were working on the roads and got their leftover paint.

That ubiquitous yellow paint.

With permission, of course, he painted arrows along the way to help pilgrims find their way from one end  of the village to the other. Slowly, the arrows extended to the other towns along the way and, well, here we are today, more than  200,000 pilgrims this year alone.

I was ready to call it a day at O’Cebreiro but the family insisted that we continue so on we went.


I hadn’t expected Alto de Poio to be the highest point on the Camino Frances – I had thought that was O’Cebreiro. But it is, with 1,330 meters compared to O’Cebreiro puny 1,300 meters. Done on the same day at O’C, it is just as challenging.

We stopped for drinks but all we could find were sodas from vending machines. But where was Juan Carlos? We couldn’t find him anywhere. Christine and I waited outside, cooling off, while Andres went to find his wayward brother. Finally, he found him and ushered us inside the local pilgrim office.

There was Juan Carlos, happily surrounded by dozens of old ledgers. He had looked through many, many of them to find one particular one. Years earlier, on another Camino, he had signed his name in the books kept by many places, and this was one of the few places where he could find that book again if he was lucky. He was, and we gazed at his signature and notes from way back then, his past self giving a note of encouragement to this, his future self.

We found the new book and added our names and notes. Maybe one day our future selves will climb this mountain again and remember this moment in time.


That day, we didn’t arrive at the albergue until after 7 p.m. We each fended for ourselves for dinner and I ate something at the albergue’s  bar while I blogged.

Our big break, however, was in our accommodations.

Because we had gotten there so late and there were four of us, the bunk beds in the main bunk-bed room were taken. The hospitaleros generously opened the overflow room for us and gave us the pick of the beds. But these were not ordinary beds.

Now, class, if you open you IKEA catalogs to the teenagers’ rooms section, you will see those lovely bunk beds that are double beds on the bottom and twin beds up top. Since the four of us were expected to be  among the last to arrive, we were invited to each have a bottom, double bed, to ourselves!


My bed is last on the left row, closest to the back wall. Christine has the bed across from me, the boys closer to the camera. One purple mat is in front of the shower, the other in front of the bathroom.

We had our own bathroom and shower in the room. This was lucky because I had gone to the crowded bunk-bed room to take a shower and went to the men’s shower room by mistake. You may use your imagination to figure out how I realized it was the men’s shower room (not by the tiny little man stick figure sign practically hidden away not in the center of the door).

The community room had comfortable chairs and a fireplace. Pilgrims shared a few bottles of wine. There were books about the Camino and about Spain. There were books about Galicia. The boys showed me a coffee table book of  Santander, their home city.

Night fell. I fell asleep in the security of friends and strangers. But sad.

I was so close to Santiago. Was the adventure ending??

Not by a long shot.

One Year in One Day – Day 33 – Molinaseca to Villafranca


Walking the Camino solo gave me time to think about the pleasure of choosing a family.

A Camino family.

As you walk, you pass, and are passed by, many pilgrims. Some of this occurs on the road. You stop for coffee and find yourself sharing a table with a stranger whose pack is close by. A conversation starts, and, presto, you find yourself walking together for miles.

Other times, your walking companion continues on, while you settle into a bar for lunch. Will you see each other again?

Maybe, maybe not.

Sometimes, you pass, and are passed, when you end the day.

In the albergue, you throw your sleeping bag on a bunk next to someone you’ve seen a few times over the past few miles. You talk and decide to have dinner together – maybe at a restaurant, maybe pooling resources and making a meal in the tiny albergue kitchen. The next morning, you get up and they have gone, their bunk empty without a trace that they were ever there.


There are people you keep running into again and again. At lunch, in town, leaving an albergue you discover you shared the night before. Since everyone is walking a similar route at a similar pace, it is not surprising that you run into the same people.

I had discovered that, although I enjoyed/needed people to talk to at the end of the day when settling into a town, I enjoyed walking solo. I liked getting lost in my thoughts for hours at a time. I didn’t have any particular problems to work out. I simply found that walking solo gave me lots of time to really see and enjoy my surroundings.

Walking solo made me available for adventures and experiences that would never have happened if I had been with other people, lost in conversation. The woman on the trail outside Leon? The old man and the cherry tree? Elisa and her gift?

None of those experiences would have happened if I had been with other people.

Not to mention my strange yet not uncommon “Saint-sightings.”

As I walked along, I came to appreciate the  pilgrim friends I was meeting again and again. I was comfortable with the idea that we could go separate routes and, when we met again, it would be like family coming together at the end of the day.  If we decided that we wanted to see different things, it would be OK to split up because we might meet again soon.

In a real family, there are actually few certainties. You can be fairly certain that your parents and your children will stick with you no matter what. But you can never be completely certain about your spouse, in-laws, others who have chosen, or have been chosen, to be part of your family. You never know for certain what is going on in the mind of your husband or wife, do you? You have faith that you do, you trust that you do. But you have no way of knowing for sure.


Your Camino family becomes a family of choice. People chose to be together. Knowing that the family has a definite end point – arrival at the final destination – your Camino family choses to stick together and to give each other space and support as needed. You allow each to accept or reject advice, conversation, insights, whatever, and not take offense.

I’ve come to the conclusion that every day of walking with someone on the Camino is the equivalent of knowing that person for one year. So, if you walk with someone for three days, it is the equivalent of knowing them for three years.

As I go through my photos, I am surprised at the number of times people who ended up being my close Camino family would be somewhere in my photos. Usually not center stage, usually in the background or a half profile here, their stuff on a bunk bed there. But circling the periphery of my relationships, nudging into my consciousness.

The Camino provided what I needed. Food, shelter, companionship, solitude, beauty, kindness, strength. All in the proper dose and at the proper time.

For me, my goofy, ridiculous, delightful, FREAKY Camino family was the manifestation of that providence.


A Kick in the Heart and a Very Short Post – Day 26 – Mansilla to Leon

How do I write about this day?

This was a day that would take me from the tiniest and emptiest of villages to the huge city of Leon. I would walk solo for the longest stretches, and also have some of the most meaningful conversations with strangers I’d had yet. I would wind up staying in the oddest pension I’ve ever stayed in, and walk away with a lump in my throat and a souvenir that I will always treasure.  Family would join me with an unexpected kick in the heart.

My saints would be with me, and I would need them.

Looking over my journal for this day, I realize it would make several chapters of a book. How to condense it for a blog?? What do I cut out? What person do I shortchange?

I planned to stay in Leon for two days because I had heard about the Cathedral, because most pilgrims stayed in Leon for two days, and because I wanted to take a rest. But this day alone covers six pages in my journal even though my notes and photos are only designed to jog my memory.

  • Unexpected news from home, which I share with my new family
  • Theresa gives me the guts and I earn a thumbs up
  • I stop carrying around other people’s fears
  • Mr. Coffee rescues a bar
  • My “language skills” help an Australian get a ride to Leon
  • I have an unforgettable talk with a local
  • Raneros, in the flesh
  • Irony at a bus stop in the city
  • Many unnecessary kilometers of walking in the city, searching for necessities
  • I expire on the road
  • Dad sends me a message, although he passed away two years ago

Seeing the Cathedral is the least important thing that happens this day. And day 2 in Leon is another 7 pages.

I am daunted as I try to write. I’m not blocked. I’m overwhelmed.

Any suggestions??

Consequences of Sharing a Room with a Stranger – Day 22 – Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos

The meseta. Ah, the meseta.

Long, straight, flat.



Can any good come from walking this long, unwavering line?

My friends, the Camino is full of surprises. Expect the unexpected and be open to unanticipated consequences.

It took a good seven hours to get to the next town. It was sunny, hot and dry.

Leave it to St. Philip, the “humorous” saint, to put me in a situation in which I WANTED a bit of water from the sky. Ha, ha, if you’ve been following my tale from the soggy beginning.

I arrived at the albergue late in the day but was not happy to find that there was no more room in the bunk bed (cheap) side of the building. If I wanted to stay at this albergue, I would have to stay in the hotel side in either a double (I was solo) or in a single.

As I dug through my meager assortment of euros, I sadly faced the fact that this night was going to blow my budget big time. I considered the idea of walking to the next albergue, although chances that there would be room were slipping away with every minute of hesitation. Plus, I would face at least three and a half more kilometers of walking in the heat.

I must have looked pretty distressed because the hospitalero decided to give me a break on the price of the single and I decided to take it.


I had my own bathroom and took a leisurely shower. I dried myself with their towels! Yay for me!!  I hand washed my clothes in the horse-trough looking tub they had out back and hung them up – they would be dry within an hour. My sleeping bag would stay in my pack tonight – I was going to sleep on clean, white sheets tonight, baby!!

I ambled over to the dining room/bar in the front of the albergue, bought a glass of cold white wine,  sat at a table on the grass, and took off my sandals. I could begin to write in my journal. The sun would set in a few hours and I officially considered this day over.

My friends, Carlos and Andres, came up the Camino hoping for a room. I told them I thought the albergue was full but told them to give it a try. Sadly, they had to move on to the next town before they would be able to stop for the night.

Sipping, writing, I met a New York Puerto Rican, Damian.  A fellow pilgrim, we instantly became friends.

I’m Puerto Rican. Rather, New Yor-Rican. Second generation, my Spanish language skills were basically non-existent at the start of my trip but my Spanish cultural skills are pretty good.  And, although I’ve lived in many, many countries, I think New York City is the Capital of the World (sorry, rest of the world). I hope you can see why Damian and I would get along.

Damian and I sat outside in the sun and talked. He translated when a fellow pilgrim had a really nasty blister crisis and needed to get to a hospital. We talked about why we were each on the Camino. We had another wine, then went inside and had a forgettable Pilgrim menu dinner.

Ah, Camino, you work in mysterious ways.


Damian had done a good thing. He had shown up at the albergue shortly after me. Remember that there was only a single and a double available when I arrived? I took the single. He could take the double or keep on walking. He had taken the double.

Along came a pilgrim, looking for a bed. Sadly, the albergue was full.

But Damian did what any pilgrim would have done. He offered the pilgrim, whose name was “C,” the other bed in his double, if she wouldn’t mind sharing a room with a stranger and splitting the cost.

Sharing a room with a stranger is not as unusual as you may think, dear reader. Every night on the Camino has been spent sharing a room with strangers, men and women, young and old, snoring, scratching, farting, laughing, coughing, packing, in various stages of dress and undress. Nothing means anything anymore. It’s all about helping each other, being considerate of each other, and getting a good night’s sleep.

So Damian and C shared a room that night. The room next door to mine, in fact. And those walls were gossamer thin.

They talked well into the night.

About what, you are indelicately wondering? Strangers, brought together by the Camino? A charming, good-looking, single man from New York and an exhilarating, likeable, single woman from Germany? Both having been through the good and bad of life and now walking the Camino looking for . . . what?

What could they talk about until falling asleep?

Blisters, my friend. Blisters.

Who has how many where. What caused them. What remedies they’ve heard of. What worked. What didn’t. What they might try. What they hadn’t tried yet. Socks. How many layers of socks. Shoes. Boots. Sandals. Powders. Creams. Wraps.

I fell asleep to the sound of them discussing their blisters.


They left early the next morning.

Although I never saw either of them again, I have it on very good authority that they walked the rest of the Camino together.

And that, my dear reader, is the endearingly sweet and mysterious way in which the Camino occasionally brings people together and brings them what they didn’t know they were looking for.