The Beginning of the End


Christina and I wake at a normal hour. We don’t have to pack and leave by 0800 today. We go downstairs and enjoy . . . what’s it called again??

Oh, yeah. BRUNCH.

It is our last day on the Camino. Tonight we will be in Santiago. Can it really be over?

We walk at different paces, hanging together, then separating. Even if she isn’t with me, I know that she, Andres, Juan Carlos – my Camino family – are at my side. I haven’t seen the brothers in a while, but I know they are in the area. We will all arrive at Santiago today.

I feel sad. I feel great. I miss my family. I feel strong and energized.  I feel lost.  I am physically and mentally ready for any adventure. I want to walk for miles and miles, weeks and weeks more. I don’t want this to be the end.


Christina and I pass through a serene eucalyptus forest. Although I had walked by these types of trees before, I had never been surrounded by their intense natural fragrance. I stand still and inhale  – the aroma implants in my brain.


We stop for lunch at a local cafe. There are tourists – real tourists. Their tour bus is nearby. There must be some important local sight nearby. We are not here for sight-seeing, however. We have a journey to end.


Christine and I split again. I spot the huge monument to the visit by Pope John Paul II. It is bigger than I imagined it would be.

As I walk around it, I see a homeless person come out of the bushes behind the monument. Shabby, he looks like he just finished taking a leak in the woods. He meanders over to a cart set up by a gentleman selling soda and juice to passing peregrinos and makes himself comfortable.


I am standing in front of the monument, taking pictures. Christina comes along, smiling (she knows something I don’t know).  Suddenly, who comes running up out of nowhere and grabs me?

Andres! Juan Carlos! The brothers!

It was a wonderful surprise. I had not realized how happy I would be to see them. I give them the strongest of hugs and blink back emotion.  We chatter away, in English and Spanish, delighted to be sharing this last day together on the Camino.

The brothers had arrived earlier at the nearby albergue, Monte de Gozo, and would spend the night there, walking into Santiago the next morning. I could stay, too, since there are hundreds of beds available at this municipal albergue, which was built to handle the crush of pilgrims who arrive during the fat days of July and August and the city’s worth of regular vacationers.

But Christina must get to Santiago today. She has a plane to catch and has only one day available to visit Santiago.

I decide to not abandon Christina on this last day. We will get our campostellas tonight in Santiago.

But, since Santiago is so close, we decide to take the boys up on their invitation to share a feast they are preparing at the albergue. There will be about a dozen people who have already donated money for groceries, and Juan Carlos will be the “chef du jour.”

The boys amble down to the nearby grocery store to buy the supplies.

I wander over to the cart and buy a soda. I put my pack down and relax in the shade. I listen to the conversation between the homeless man and the person who is minding the cart. They are talking about Spanish politics, something I know absolutely nothing about.

But the homeless man seems to know what he is talking about. Even in my rudimentary Spanish, I can tell he has reasonable opinions and is expressing them well. He fiddles with a coil of wire as he sits in the shade and talks. I join the conversation. They enjoy having a NorteAmericana  talking about politics and kindly ignore my many linguistic mistakes.

They ask and I tell them where I’m from, how long I’ve been walking, etc.

The homeless man has been traveling on the Camino for the past two years. Before that, he spent a year living on the beach in Mallorca. He stays in albergues and makes money by selling little figures he makes from wire. I had admired his skill as he twisted plain wire into action figures, words, and sculptures. Now I realize why he was so skilled – this is what he does for a living.

I then notice that he has about a dozen of these figures set up on a stone pillar in the shade nearby. It was the worst marketing location ever. If you walked into the pillar you still wouldn’t see them because the gray of the wire blends so well into the gray of the stone.

As I say goodbye because it is time to find the albergue for dinner with my “family,” he hands me one of his wire sculptures. Lovely, intricate, he had casually crafted a  pilgrim walking while we had talked and was “gifting” it to me. Of course, I could not accept it as a gift.  I was a pilgrim but I wasn’t homeless. I give him €2.

He refuses to take it. I insist. He refuses again. I really insist.

He relents and accepts.

But he gives me another sculpture, more elaborate, with words and figures.


It is sitting on the desktop next to me as I write this.







I’m An Idiot But it Turns Out OK – Day 37 – San Mahmed to Ferreiros


The albergue was deserted by the time I left.

My hand-washed clothes from the night before were still damp so I used the dryer for 20 minutes before I packed out. Most of the people had sent their bags ahead (yes, they transported their bags). A few were waiting for vans to get their bags before they headed out.

The dining room was empty – the hospitaleros were not there. But they left hot pots, toasters and coolers with items for breakfast such as cereal, coffee, and  pastry and pilgrims simply helped themselves. I had a simple breakfast while waiting for my clothes to dry and charging my phone and iPad.

The road was easy and flat and a short 3 kilometers to that final landmark city before the end, Sarria.


Sarria is a little more than 100 kilometers from Santiago. Since one must have walked at least 100 kilometers from Santiago in order to earn a Campostella, Sarria is the place where you find an influx of pilgrims whose goal it is to get the piece of paper that proves they’ve been on a “pilgrimage.”   They start their Camino in Sarria, getting two stamps each day, and present it to the Pilgrim Office at the Cathedral in Santiago. Then they get their Campostella.

I have my guidebook with me and re-read the words of the author – “. . . remember that many of the new arrivals may be nervous starting out and the last thing such a person needs is aloofness built on a false sense of superiority. A loving pilgrim welcomes all they meet along the path – without judgement.”


It is early morning and Sarria is just waking up. It is too early for me to stop for breakfast so I easily climb up, up, up, past the mural near the castle at the top. I drink in the sunshine and wish a sincere “Buen Camino” to the new pilgrims huffing their way up to the top of the hill.

And, then, as I gaze down at the city I have just passed through, relishing the view and the early start I had on the day, I get a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach.

I still have no cash. I had to use plastic the night before in order to stay at the albergue. I need to find a cash machine.

I ask a few locals briskly trotting to work where the nearest cash machine is and they point back down into the city.  Down, down.

Which Saint shall I thank for keeping me humble? I want to blame all of them. Couldn’t they have made me think of this 15 minutes earlier? This is going to cost me alot of time.

I have no choice but to head back down into the city. I run into many pilgrims heading up as I head down, some of them people I had briskly passed an hour earlier on the Camino. I have to keep asking locals for the nearest ATM. I feel like an idiot when the cab drivers point across the narrow street we are standing on and the bank is right in front of me. I am one of the first on line. But I am the only one with a backpack and hiking poles.

I fill up with enough cash to last to the next large town and retrace my steps up. This time I pass no one. All the morning pilgrims have gone. I am the last one.

However, I am jubilant to see my Camino companion, Christine, when I stop to get breakfast. She had gone the other way with the boys up the ridge. She said the views were great but the route was challenging. It was shorter than the way I had gone through Samos so they were quite a distance ahead of us, close to a day. The two routes had joined again at San Mahmed. She had slowed down and was now with me.


If I hadn’t gone back for cash, I wouldn’t have run into her.

Sorry, saints. I should have trusted you.

We walk together the rest of the day. We pass the 100 kilometer marker, an important photo-op for pilgrims.


A group of new pilgrims pass us as we walk up a wooded trail. They are family and friends from the U.S, Canada and Australia who are doing this as a reunion. They are chatting happily and loudly and rambling up the trail, toting tiny packs with just enough room for the paper map given them by their tour arranger. They carry bottles of water in their hands.

I am slowly going up the trail, which is much steeper to me than to them. I smile and wish them a “Buen Camino.” I realize I may be the first person to give them that particular Camino experience.

“Where did you start?” “How long have you been walking?” “Did you walk the whole way?” I don’t have to ask them these questions because I know what their answers would be. But they ask me and I answer amiably, remembering the author’s words. Their joy at being on the Camino is infectious.

However, they do catch me off guard when they ask, “Wow. Are you carrying everything in your backpack?”

Dear Reader, you have seen the photos. Does this look like a daypack to you?


God bless them. They sent their “luggage” ahead because, they explained, they “didn’t have time.”

Christine and I get to the albergue, only to find it full. This is not good. We had forgotten that we would be meeting this problem from now on because of all the new pilgrims joining at Sarria.

Fortunately, we are among the first to arrive at the next albergue, which is clean, quiet and one of the ones operated by the municipality. There is no store to buy food, the only store in town having turned itself into a private albergue (the one that was already full). So we go to the bar next door and have a great meal. We catch up on e-mail, I catch up on blogging, and we have a quiet, restful night.


I Don’t Have Paper But I Do Have Plastic! – Day 36 – Fonfria to San Mahmed

IMGP4313The morning is beautiful and we are rested. The albergue has been comfortable and I have been surrounded by friends.

Nevertheless, the journey is not over. I have miles and miles to go. So the four of us – myself, Christine, Juan Carlos and Andres – rise, have breakfast, and hit the road.

I feed off my companions’ energy and motivation. Dare I admit that I am . . . tired? You’d think that after walking 400 miles, that would be an obvious statement of fact. But I haven’t felt tired before. I am today simply tired of walking.

I don’t want to see any more old churches or old Roman roads. I’m tired of walking through abandoned villages. I’m tired of the endless green paths through the fields which were lovely at first, and now seem beautiful yet redundant.


As it gets closer to summer, it gets hotter and hotter. Although we are in the wet part of Spain, we will see no more rain, just sunshine and more sunshine. I’m not complaining about the sun, Heaven knows, after all the mud weeks ago, but I am tired of the hot.

I’m still carrying my fleece and my long underwear pajama bottoms. I’m too close to the end to send them ahead and the weight gain wouldn’t be much.

The four of us continue for about eight kilometers. Then, when we hit Triacastela, we split up.


For me, this is sad. We are very close to the end now, less than a week to Santiago, I expect. The route the boys and Christina will take has great views. That means it goes up to the ridge line. I don’t want to climb any more.

I will walk towards Samos, the town with the famous monastery. I might even  spend the night there.  It is a slightly longer route but stays flatter.

So it is time for a final good-bye to my friends – my Camino family.

We exchange cell phone numbers and promise to keep in touch. We will look for each other in Santiago and celebrate our arrivals, if we meet. We bid each other a “Buen Camino.” I am choked up as I watch them follow the path into the mountains. I doubt I’ll see them again.

Have I made a bad choice?


I continue onto Samos and the town is just hitting siesta when I arrive so everything is closed. It is hot and blazingly sunny. I have run out of money, again. I check my meager finances and look for an ATM machine. When I find one, no surprise, it doesn’t have any cash. Once again, I’m stuck without euros.


I go to a bar and the women welcome me as I get the only things I can afford for lunch, a cold beer and some toast. I decide that I shall take a siesta here. I can’t stay at the monastery now because I don’t have any money. I must continue on and hope I can find a place with a cash machine. One with cash.

I am at the bar for about an hour and not a car goes by. Some pilgrim on bicycles come through the town but, not finding anything open, they continue on their way. I decide to do something I’ve seen others do but I haven’t done myself – I call ahead and make a reservation at an albergue.


I arrive at that albergue late. The albergue is well run by the family and they clearly take pride in their facility and their service. I try to explain that I have run out of euros, that the cash machine was empty, that I don’t have any money for the bed, etc, etc.

No problem, they say.  They take credit cards! So. for the first time on my journey, I pull out plastic and use it. Thank you , St. Julian, the card goes through.

I lay out my sleeping bag on a top bunk. I’m in the shower when the communal meal begins. I’m sorry to miss this multi-course meal since it was the reason I wanted to stay at this albergue. I don’t have any food on me and there’s no pilgrim kitchen. I hand wash my things, knowing that it is so late in the day that my clothes will not be dry in the morning.

Clean, with routine necessities taken care of, I wander and enjoy the sounds of pilgrims who have shared conversation over the communal dinner. I don’t know any of these people, however, and I haven’t eaten. I feel out of place and lonely. The family graciously asks if I’d like a bowl of soup which I gladly accept. For drink, I only need water and I get a pitcher-full.

That night, I climb onto the top bunk. I can hardly wait until the pitcher of water I had with dinner kicks in and I have to climb down in the middle of the night. The sun is going down outside but this is the new normal time to get to sleep. The room I’m in is surprisingly cramped. The family could get rid of one bunk bed and make the room comfortable. But I’m sure it’s a money thing – I can’t begin to imagine their business model.

As I sit up top in my bed, writing in my journal, I see it all. Old men parading around shirtless. People picking at their feet. Guys slapping lotion on their inner thighs. This will be one of the few nights I have trouble falling asleep because of people snoring.

And I still don’t have any money.

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??

Camino minus 17 – Half Full? Half Empty?

Inside the Cathedral, there is a grating where worshippers and visitors drop coins, which can be seen glistening from above.

Inside the Cathedral, there is a grating where worshippers and visitors drop coins, which can be seen glistening from above.

The sun came out, the birds sang, and the dishes were put back in their places. Yesterday’s rain morphed into today’s sunshine. We recovered from Saturday night’s party and everyone looked good in the photos I had taken. Success!

I’m running out of time. The guilt is starting to hit. What guilt? The guilt of leaving DH behind for weeks on end while I’m walking. He’s going to be the Gary Sinise to my Tom Hanks on Apollo 13 (without the failure!!). I’m looking forward to the challenge and what this Camino will bring me. But DH gets to stay behind and work.

I’ve asked if he wants to join me for at least part of the trip and he gracefully declines. He really isn’t into that kind of thing (anymore). So I should not feel guilty.

But I do.

This week I will begin my final packing for the trip. Pack, weigh, delete. Pack, weigh, delete. Pack, weigh, delete. I can already see the pattern ahead of me and I’m dreading it yet, I’m excited.

Saying goodbye will be not so exciting.

Today we decided to go to Strasbourg, France. It is close by, about two hours. I needed to try out the credit union debit card I’ve mentioned. I had to make sure it worked in a foreign country. It did.

The front of the Cathedral in Strasbourg.


But I also wanted to take DH away for a visit , a mini-vacation, before we went our temporarily seperate ways.  We got lost looking for a place to park, spent hours walking around the beautiful little city, had coffee, hot chocolate, and pie in a little restaurant. We were back home in time for dinner.

I wore my no-longer-new boots and forgot that I had them on. I declined climbing the 300+ steps to the top of the Cathedral for fear that I wouldn’t make it to the top and I don’t need that kind of stress this close to my big event.  I said “Bonjour” instead of “Merci” when leaving the tourist information center. What a dweeb I am!!


I’m not worried. My language skills improve dramatically once I get started. I used my French to order at the cafe and I understood why what I wanted was not available (hint: now I remember the French word for breakfast).

I’m excited about packing, yet worried that I’m still missing things I can’t afford.

I’m looking forward to the new experiences and the people whom I’ll encounter on the Camino, yet I’ll miss my family and friends.

I’m chomping at the bit like a race horse at the Kentucky Derby, yet can’t answer the simple question,  “Why are you going?”

Like the wineglass next to me as I write this, I am half full and half empty.

Camino minus 19 – Follow the Money and Be the Change

Tomorrow DH and I are giving a dinner party for a friend who is PCS-ing (military moving) back to the States. We decided this person deserved a real dinner, not just the chips and dips normally done for people who are leaving. But it means that most of today was spent shopping and getting ready for tomorrow (tomorrow’s blog should be REALLY short).

But the Camino is never far from my mind.

I had lunch in a little place on base. No one else was there and I was looking over my Camino guidebooks. Someone walked in, someone I knew, and we got to talking about . . . you know what. By the end of lunch, she decided to take her daughter with her on the Camino  next year!

Probably won’t happen.

As part of my errands while party shopping, I took care of one of my biggest concerns for my trip (now that my new passport has arrived).

I finally closed one of my bank accounts and moved all the money into a new credit union account.  I plan to use the ATM card attached to this new account to get cash while in Spain.

Most of the villages along the way, and all the albergues where you spend the night, deal only in cash. That is, of course, euros. Any money I have in dollars has to be changed to euros before it can do me any good. I better be pulling euros out of my security pouch if I want to buy a cafe con leche, because dollars just won’t do.

American credit cards generally do not work in European ATM machines. American credit cards have raised numbers on them and European do not. American cards have a  magnetic strip. European have a microchip.  If I was crazy enough to want to use a credit card to get money from an ATM, the card would probably just get swallowed.

This has happened more than once to unfortunate pilgrims along the Camino.

But why would I even want to use my credit card to get cash from an ATM? That would be a cash advance and, if you don’t know what that means, check your latest credit card statement. Somewhere on there you will find the interest rates for purchases and for cash advances. For example, one card may have an interest rate is 9% on purchases, 20.24% on cash advances. Another, 4.9% on purchases, a walloping 24.99% on cash advances!

My friends, no one uses credit cards to get money on the Camino.

So, then, how DO people get money?

Well, most of the people who walk the Camino are from Spain (no surprise there) so they have local banks. It simply isn’t a problem. The next highest number are from Europe. Most European Union countries share enough of a banking system that there is not much stress in moving money. Europeans have the right ATM cards in their pockets.

For me, getting my money has taken lots of research.

I have my fingers crossed that my new card will work painlessly and inexpensively outside the country. I will pay ATM fees because I will be using ATMs from banks that are not my “home” bank. I will pay foreign transaction fees as my dollars get changed into euros. Finally, I will deal with the ever-changing exchange rate, which conspires to make my dollars worth less and everything in Europe cost more.

So, I closed an account that I had opened in better times to help pay for school expenses for #1 son. It has been sitting there, gathering no interest (thank you, economy) for years and years. You know the calendar you get with the pack of checks? The calendar with this pack was from 2007. May 3 was a Thursday.

And I expect all that money will be gone by the end of next month.

What will I have to show for it?

I hope to be generous with it. I hope to remember that the only value of money is in what you get in return for it. Sometimes, that will be a soft pillow. Sometimes it will be a cold beer. Sometimes it will be a grateful smile.

And I’m a sucker for a talented busker playing an instrument on the sidewalk, be it violin, accordion, guitar, or  clarinet. I always drop some change.

I hope I find some good music along the way.

If not, I’ll just sing. Then I can  keep the change.