How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?? – Day 39 – Melide to O Pino



I’m so close to the end, it just doesn’t seem possible.

My head and my heart feel so full of thoughts and ideas that I hardly know where to begin.

The Camino is the perfect actualization of the idea of “Ask and you shall receive,” but not from God, from your fellow pilgrims.

“Can you grab my hat?”

“Can you get my water?”

“Do you have a euro?”

I have asked my fellow sojourners these questions at various times in the past five weeks. Strangers all. And the questions were always answered with an unconditional “Yes.”

I have been asked to adjust ponchos in the wind, to pick up hiking poles, to watch packs while the owner makes a quick dash into the woods for relief and, yes, to lend a euro to someone whom we both knew I’d never see again.

And I, also, had done all without a moment’s hesitation.

We are all strangers passing alone on a long journey together.


I saw a person without legs biking the Camino. He was riding a recumbent bicycle powered by his arms.

I saw a blind person walking the Camino. He had two companions hold each end of a long – 10, maybe 12 foot – bamboo pole, one in front of him, one behind. The blind pilgrim walked in the middle, one hand on the pole, and the three of them walked along, chatting, fully loaded packs on their backs.

What a long, strange journey it’s been.

I arrived at the small town where I planned to get my cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast. The two lane road butted up against the narrow sidewalk of the bar and was just at the receiving end of a blind curve.

As I put my backpack down, I heard the loud squeal and angry honking of a heavy eighteen-wheeler, braking just in time for a car that had blindly entered the road. My fellow pilgrims and I looked in the direction of the noise but, hearing no crash, thud, or cries, returned to our activities.

The doorway was crowded as people entered and exited. It was a beautiful morning but threatened to get extremely hot in the full sunshine of the cloudless sky.

I noticed something odd as I headed for the entrance.

A chicken was strutting in front of the doorway.

Chickens and dogs had been the most common domestic animals I’d seen on the Camino. It was fitting that I should see a chicken one last time before reaching the metropolis of Santiago. But I worried about this one wandering into the road. The road was clearly problematic for cars and no doubt for pilgrims (the Camino continued on the other side).  I’d be foolish to take bets on any chicken crossing this road.

Yet, I was transfixed by what I saw next as I waited for the bird to move so I could get my coffee.

A pilgrim leaving the bar picked the chicken up. That’s when I noticed the string  on the bird’s leg. The man put the bird in the top pocket of a backpack which was leaning next to the doorway and which the bird was tied to.

The bird went in – plop – not protesting, with its head sticking out and happily looking around.

Another man came out and lifted the pack to help his friend get the pack on without losing the bird. Then he put on his own. They belted themselves up and, apparently in good spirits from a good breakfast, carefully yet nonchalantly crossed the road.

The chicken was bright-eyed and alert, almost cheerful, as it looked around at the world from the top of the pack.

Poultry in motion.

I stood there, pondering what I had just seen. The chicken literally crossed the road.

Why were they carrying a chicken? Did they find it? Was it a pet? A gift? Had they been carrying it for a long time? Did they always travel with a chicken? What did the bottom of his pack look like? What would they do with the chicken when they got to Santiago? Take it into the Cathedral? Take it home? Set it free? Eat it?

I had walked for 38 days. I had only about 48 more hours on the Camino.

I thought I had seen everything the Camino had to offer.

But the day would still be full of surprises.






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 . . .

Video? – Day 33 – Molinaseca to Villafranca

Still feel like a gorilla with a computer.

I’ve been working for many days on embedding this YouTube video into this blog. I still haven’t gotten it right.

Put on headphones if you’re watching this at work.

A special shout-out to my Camino family who inspired me and helped make the final days of my Camino so enjoyable and memorable. Still have many days to go, but everything is coming together at the end.

Video nerds – I still need help. This movie was done on Picasa 3 when Microsoft Photo Gallery became too unwieldy. Any thoughts??

Day 2 – Roncevalles to Zubiri

Another rainy, muddy, cold day.

The albergue in Roncevalles was wonderful and so welcome after such a difficult day. Clean and modern, it is a converted monastery and holds more than 100 pilgrims. No bunk beds this time, and lockers for your stuff. 

Wisely, they have a well used room where pilgrims put their boots rather than stomping all through their beautiful albergue (hostel).

A few people are becoming my Camino family. The are the German ladies, Honey (American spelling of a German name) and Casidy (ditto). There is Juan Carlos from Honduras. There is SoMin and her mother and father. And many more people whom I recognize from either their faces or their backpacks.

Still rainy and slick, especially in the mountains. Some who blasted past me yesterday have been brought low by their own exuberance.

Within one kilometer of the start of the day, a pilgrim fell face first on the trail avoiding mud. He got up, laughing, and his friends good-naturedly joked with him, but I decided that I would take it very carefully.

I had packed some medication for tendonitis in my first aid kit. Like an umbrella, I figured that if I had it with me, I wouldn’t need it. On this day, I was right. Along the trail, a group of walkers gathered around a young Italian who had hurt his Achilles and was in much pain. I was able to share some of the gel before the others created a temporary bandage for him. He continued on his way but was very slow and in much pain.

The Camino continues to be a different kind of spiritual experience. I thought I’d be thinking about My relationship with God and with the universe. Instead. I find myself thinking about how cold it is, how there is no place dry enough to sit and rest, and about how to not fall on my ass in the mud.

The rain has turned all the minor streams into rushing rivers. But I’m almost tempted to walk through them in order to get the mud off my boots.

The last part of the trail leading into Zubiri was one of the most treacherous paths I’ve ever been on. It was steeply downhill and mud and rock covered. Very slow and dangerous.

Finally arriving in Zubiri before the town ran out of available beds, I tried to find a place to buy a comb (which I had already lost after one day), some food and some magic blister repair lotion.

I ended up buying a loaf of bread, some ham, some cheese, and a bottle of wine for dinner.  

I joined the others at the hostel in the community eating room. I found myself in a United Nations of new friends with one thing in common – the Camino. 

German, Italian, French, Spanish, no English, conversations all around.

Camino Arrival Day – Plans Change From Day One


There are two routes over the Pyrenees from St. Jean Pied de Port.  One goes over the mountains from the beginning and then heads downhill towards the end and is known as the Napolean Route. The other goes around the mountain as much as possible, yet has a  steep uphill climb at the end. The usual route, the Napolean, has great views but is often  closed  because of bad weather on these highest altitudes of the Pyrenees.

If you have seen movie, The Way, you’ll remember that the opening premise is that the climber loses his life on the first day on the mountain. Bad fog on the Napoleon makes people do things like walk off cliffs that they did not see. Yes, it really happens.

 I said that, if the weather was bad, I would have no problem walking the lower route. Well, it looks like that is what I will have to do.  

I had made a reservation to stay at a hostel in Orrison, about 8 kilometers up the mountain on the Napolean, and stay there the first night. I planned to make that first day an easy one. But the Napolean has just been closed for tomorrow because of very bad weather (closed means they recommend people do not go that way). 

So, it appears that my plans are changing from day one.

The hostel in St. Jean Pied de Port where I am staying this first day, Le Espirit de Chemin, is wonderful. After walking two Caminos together, the owners decided that they wanted to have a business which welcomed pilgrims. They work at their hostel six months out of the year and spend the other six in the Nederlands where they find temporary jobs. Like many hostels, they have volunteers help with managing the flow of pilgrims during the prime Camino season.

The owners, Roberta and Arno, do all the cooking and, wow, can they cook. Basically vegetarian, luscious food to warm the heart and belly! They made a wonderful homemade tomato soup with fresh vegetables, followed by a sweet pasta salad, a warm potato salad, a fresh tomato, cucumber and arugula salad, and an out of this world roquefort cheese pie. Homemade wine accompanied the meal and flowed non-stop. 

I donated to the charity they are supporting this year in honor of being in business ten years, Save the Children. They also provide a take away lunch for the next day, if desired, so I ordered that also. I can hardly wait. And the coffee is delicious, so breakfast in the morning should be a welcome start.

 I will unpack and get settled in for the night. My bed is a top bunk. You don’t want to know when was the last time I tried to hoist myself up that high.

Camino minus 21 – Feet, meet shoes. Shoes, meet feet.

Is it going to rain?

If it rains, 1) DH won’t want to ride his motorcycle, and 2) I won’t want to wear my new boots on my long practice walk for the Camino.

In the end, he bet that it would rain and took the car. I bet that it would stay dry and wore my new boots.

Fresh out of the box.

Fresh out of the box.

With such a short time left before I begin my Camino, I was anxious to learn whether my bet would pay off – had it been smart to buy new boots on-line so close to the Big Day? They had arrived in just a week but I hadn’t even taken them out of the box.

The answer appears to be yes.

They will never look this nice again.

They will never look this nice again.

Today was my regular long walk day so it could be perfect for breaking in new shoes, giving me much needed confidence in a decision well made. Or it could be an utter disaster, setting my training back weeks with lots of limping and more black toes. I had packed my backpack with about 20 pounds worth of things I wanted to take on today’s long walk, some I would also take on the Camino:

1. summer sleeping bag

2. rain jacket, still not waterproofed

3. checkbook, although I’m the only person in Europe still using a checkbook

4. glasses, since I’m wearing my sunglasses

5. peanut butter sandwich

6. i.d cards, cell phone, euros and dollar wallets

7. two Camino travel guides, in case of down time

8. hat and hiking poles

9. rosary

10. camera

I later packed my fleece jacket into the bag. And 2 liters of water in a Camelback. I figured that would give me a close estimate of the weight I will be carrying on the path so that I could give the new shoes a realistic try out. With two sets of socks on each foot, the shoes fit snugly and well. And they didn’t untie every ten steps, a persistent problem with my other boots.

So, I own shoes and socks and two pairs of pants. I’m working my way up.

The weather stayed cloudy but dry. Today, May 1, was a German holiday so the roads were empty, although the sidewalks were full of people walking, biking, hiking!

A beer wagon. They were probably ontheir way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, "Freulingfest."

A beer wagon. They were probably on their way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, “Freulingfest.”

I had a nice encounter with some young German men, waiting for the rest of their friends at the gas station that has become my WC stop halfway through my long walk. They had day packs and beer!

Heaven forbid there should be a German holiday without beer.

They were friendly and, since they saw me walking past them with my enormous pack (compared to their dinky little day packs), they gave a friendly “Hallo.”  I asked if they were going on a hike, they pointed in the direction they were headed, and asked where I was heading. When I told them they noted, correctly, that my “hike” was really just a walk because it would be all along roads.

They offered me a beer, I declined. I pointed out to them that I had water and they agreed that beer probably wasn’t needed.

I enjoy talking to German men even when they have a beer or two under their belts. The fact that I am old enough to be their mother has alot to do with it. They are like gentle giants, for the most part

I wished them a safe and fun trip, which I’m sure they had, and I continued on my walk. By then I had forgotten about my feet and my pack, which is the sweet spot when you’re trying out new shoes.

Spring in the City.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Feet, shoes, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . . .

but I’m taking moleskin and Compeed for blisters, anyway.