Monthly Archives: June 2014

Day 38: Ventas de Narón to San Xulian

Distance walked: 10.3 miles
Song of the day: “Promise” by Romeo Santos and Usher (bachata still gets stuck in my head)

Jasmine and I stayed in a dorm room at Casa Molar with a group of four Americans, and older German man, and a 20-something German woman. I haven’t bothered setting an alarm lately because the other pilgrims just wake me up, anyway. So imagine my surprise to wake up naturally at 7:45am to discover the American group gone and the Germans peacefully sleeping. It had been so quiet: I had heard nothing that morning. I made a mental note to thank the American pilgrims if I ever ran into them again.

We walked along fairly slowly that morning, although Jasmine’s leg had been feeling much better since she had decided to walk in her sports sandals rather than her boots. We have seen a lot of pilgrims doing this just to give their feet a break from blister pain.

It is really funny to watch the “new” pilgrims who have just started out. You can usually tell the difference between those who have started in Sarria versus those who have been walking for multiple weeks: no limping, tiny backpacks, clean boots (or even Sketchers-like lightweight athletic shoes). I don’t hold this against them (although there is a noticeable bitterness among some of the long-distance pilgrims, who seem to feel that this is a cheap and easy version of pilgrimage). The way I see it, some people can’t get a month off from work to walk across Spain. Some people would like to experience the Camino but maybe have physical limitations. Some people just don’t want to walk that far. So I don’t get angry when I see the newbies. That said, I found it absolutely hilarious to see a group of Spanish teenagers walking ahead of us. None of them could be older than 17. One of the boys was carrying a boombox, they were all wearing flimsy sneakers, and the girl- a Hermione Granger lookalike- wore a trucker hat, neon green crop top exposing her tummy, and denim short shorts. That would have been really funny in the Pyrenees!

Other than a pitstop for some groceries in Palas de Rei, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Jasmine and I had reserved beds at Casa Domingo, a small private hostel just outside of San Xulian. I had decided that from this point forward, I would make an effort to stay in smaller private albergues rather than the larger municipal ones. From my recent experiences, they tended to be cleaner and more atmospheric. Casa Domingo did not disappoint. A converted farmhouse, it had come with high recommendation in an email from Colin, who had stayed there several days earlier. Situated next to a farm, it had a large communal dining room with a television so that everyone could watch the World Cup match that night. (Jasmine and I had neglected to see the notice that you needed to sign up for the group dinner by a certain time, so we didn’t get to participate. Oops).

Below you will see some questionable modern art from a restaurant along the road today, a much nicer pilgrim monument from Palas de Rei, and what happens when I hang up my laundry thinking that clothespins are not necessary. Enjoy :).











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Day 37: Portomarín to Ventas de Narón

Distance walked: 8.0 miles
Song of the Day: “‘Lazy Flies” by Beck, for reasons later mentioned

This morning was yet another showcase of pilgrim discourtesy. The alarm of the lovely American pilgrim in the bunk beneath me – who had snarled all night with a ferocity that made any form of earplugs useless- went off at *4:45am.* And then more slamming of doors. I had also made the mistake of orienting myself with my feet rather than my head towards the door to the room; in this position, the overhead light in the hallway would shine directly in my face when the door was open. Which was from 5am to 6:30, until everyone else had left.

When I awoke to an empty room, Portomarín had been enveloped in a thick fog that made it almost completely unrecognizable as the breezy, relaxed town that I entered the day before. I looked dubiously out the window of the hostel and immediately transferred my rain jacket from my send-ahead backpack to my daypack. The teenage girl at the hostel desk gave me the “you so crazy” look, but I would rather be safe than sorry.

Reserving a room ahead of time has made me a little lazy, so I ate breakfast and left town a bit later than usual, making my way back over the river and entering the fog-covered forest paths. After an hour or so, a terrible stench filled the air as I slogged up the hill; I was thankful for my red bandana (thank you, Apol!) which I used to cover my mouth and nose as I walked. My guidebook stated that the Camino passes a fertilizer factory. Yuck.

Not long after 10:30, the fog miraculously lifted (well, maybe not so miraculously. I think that this happens almost every day!) to reveal a sunny, hot day. As I passed from the shady into the sunny areas of the path, obnoxious clouds of black flies would swarm around me. Unlike most flies that I have seen, these just hovered lethargically around my hands and face. Super annoying. And then I had that Beck song stuck in my head the rest of the day.

I made a rest stop in Gonzar to use the baño, buy some juice, and get a stamp. One thing that I have not explained is the stamp system. Every pilgrim is issued a credencial, or pilgrim passport, upon beginning the Camino. At every place of accommodation (and optionally at restaurants and bars you visit), your credencial is imprinted with the unique stamp of that establishment. This passport is presented to the staff when you check into an albergue: it proves that you are a pilgrim (and not just a thrifty traveller looking for a cheap dorm bed) by giving a record of where you have been along the Way. At least two stamps a day for the final 100k are the verification needed to receive a compostela, or certificate of completion, at the end of the Camino. This number has increased from the initial requirement of one stamp per day because of the number of disingenuous people who were cheating by driving (not walking or cycling) town to town to get enough stamps for a compostela. On several occasions, I myself saw two apparently healthy pilgrims with backpacks walk out of a hostel , continue down the road directly to a car that they had obscured a short distance away, throw their packs in the trunk, and drive off to the next location. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation for this, but if not, this is both sad and unbelievably pathetic.

But I digress. In Gonzar, I bought a juice and looked around the cafe, which was bustling with pilgrims that all seemed to know one another. One of the downfalls of taking time off is that the group of faces that you started with is often far ahead of you. Garrett and Lynn were already heading to Palas del Rei. I sadly wondered if I would see anyone I knew again.

And then I ran into this girl: 🙂


After her boyfriend Chris had returned to Germany, Jasmine had been far ahead of me but had experienced a setback: a really bad cold and tendinitis in her lower leg. Ah, tendinitis, bane of pilgrims. I encouraged to her come with me to the next town, where I already had a reservation. She called to see if there were any beds available, and the decision was made. We spent the rest of the walk there catching up.

In the early afternoon, we arrived in Ventas de Narón to check into our hostel, which was called… wait for it… Casa Molar. Bwah hah! I told her that the hostel name was my presiding reason for opting to stay in Ventas: as an oral health professional, I felt destined to stay there ;). And other than being my first experience with the unfortunate trend of supplying disposable bedsheets (think of the wispy translucent cloth used for hair nets), it was a great place to stay. Fewer than 50 miles to go!









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Day 36: Morgade to Portomarín

Distance walked: 6.7 miles
Song of the Day: “The Mummer’s Dance” by Loreena McKennit, which was playing overhead along with her other songs at one of my morning rest stops. (This is for you, Mom and Matt).

My bed at Casa Morgade was so comfortable, and my roommates left so quietly in the morning that I had a delicious sleep in -at least according to pilgrim time- finally leaving the albergue at 8am. The morning breakfast rush was already starting outside, so I devoured a big piece of cake for breakfast and set off.

I realized as I walked that I notice so much more when I go slowly. Maybe this is the silver lining to my hip injury. It seemed like I had more time to appreciate the little sights and sounds along the road. Today was a particularly short day, but it was one of my favorites in a long time due to the beautiful scenery. I walked for quite a ways with Lucy, a law student from Australia, before finally descending down a steep hill into the town of Portomarín. This town really stood out because of the Rio Miño, probably the widest and bluest river we had seen along the Camino.

I had sent my pack ahead to a hostel but had no reservation. I had figured that the town was large enough and had a wide enough availability that there would be plenty of beds in the hostel at my early arrival time. Nope. And no beds across the street, either. Luckily, the hospitalera called another place that had plenty of space, but I had learned my lesson: reservations every day from now on!

Since I checked in early, I had plenty of time to do my daily errands in the afternoon. I stopped by the supermarket for lunch. Long ago, I tired of always eating the same bocadillo (sandwich with ham, prosciutto, cheese, Spanish tortilla, etc) every day for lunch. This is usually the main lunch offering available at any bar or restaurant, but after a few weeks of eating nothing but bocadillos, I was in serious danger of becoming a bocadillo. It is also tricky to find meals with fresh vegetables, which is what my body craves after a long period of meat, cheese, and bread. In León, I had discovered that supermarkets often sell prepackaged salads for about €2.50 *that also contain a fork.* Magic! So as often as possible, I stop in the supermarket of the major city that I pass through to buy a salad. And then my stomach and wallet are both happy.

It was a great afternoon just to be outside. I took my iPad (the Kindle app has proven invaluable on this trip) to read in the park. Some pilgrims read philosophical or spiritual books on the Camino. Others bring along something inspirational like a book of poetry. I am reading Sh*t My Dad Says. So sue me. 😉

The highlight of the day was meeting up once again with Lynn and Garrett. Even though it has been nice to walk alone, sometimes when I see close-knit groups of pilgrims together, I miss the camaraderie of my now-disassembled group of friends. They introduced me to some new friends, and we ate a feast at the O Mirador restaurant and albergue that overlooked the river. (Unfortunately, it was at this time that Netherlands slaughtered beat Spain, eliminating them from the World Cup competition. So much for celebrating Spanish-style). We said our short-term goodbyes, as it is uncertain whether we will see each other in Santiago or not. I hope we do.














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Day 35: Sarria to Morgade

Distance walked: 7.5 miles
No music today: short day!

Aaaand I’m back!

My night in Sarria might fall under the category “from hell.” There were a lot of snorers, but unlike the typical night, where the snoring is almost comically symphonic, this was cacophonous, at high volume, and unfortunately concentrated in my immediate area of the dorm room. There was one man whose snores sounded like he was draining the bottom of a Coke with a straw. The snores of the man in the bunk beneath mine came out in a series of irregular snorts. Yet other neighbor let out a snore straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Earplugs did nothing. Headphones did nothing. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because I was actually awakened the next morning by other (non-snoring) pilgrims who were having loud conversations in Spanish. Then the girl in the bunk next to mine seemed to be packing and repacking every item she owned in a crinkly plastic bag before stuffing it noisily in her bag. Doors opened and slammed shut. Someone turned on the overhead light (which again, was directly above me; how do I end up in these situations?) at 5:50am without a care that people were still sleeping. Exhausted after hours of disrupted slumber, I lay there curled up in bed like Arya Stark, silently reciting a litany of the people that I would strangle when the time came: “The Coke-drinker. The Snorter. The Chainsaw. The talkative Spaniards. Plastic bag girl. Light switch man.”

And then… silence. I awoke to my alarm at 6:55… and everyone was gone. I am taking advantage of this, I thought, and blissfully slept for another half hour. I had arranged to have my pack sent to the next town, only 12k ahead, and so stopped at a cafe for breakfast and to Skype call an albergue to reserve a bed. Normally, I don’t like the idea of reserving rooms because it kind of goes against the pilgrim spirit. However, I also didn’t want to send my pack ahead and get into town only to find that all of the beds were taken. There were a LOT of new pilgrims on the Camino, many just starting from Sarria, and the likelihood of hostels being full upon arrival had increased. With my iffy hip, it wouldn’t exactly be a smart idea to risk having to carry my pack and look for a bed in the next town, which was sometimes 4-5 kilometers away. So reservation it was.

So I started off, with just my little daypack and my trekking poles, to begin the last 115k of the Camino. My hip was doing okay; I was overly cautious and took tiny steps. It felt so good to walk again. At one point, the realization that I would be able to actually finish this hit me, and I became very emotional. I felt an enormous surge of gratitude that I was no longer in pain.

On I went, up and down the hills of Galicia like a little old lady, getting passed left and right by large groups of pilgrims. What a change of scenery from the last day I had walked into Hontanas! Green green green. There were different trees, different flowers, different smells. I passed by countless farms with sheep and livestock, noting at each farm a small roofed rectangular cabin on stilts, which I later found were is used to store corn. (I like to imagine that someone who no longer owns a farm might use it as a little clubhouse to sit and read or take a nap or otherwise escape from the world for a little while, but that’s just me).

On the way, I stopped at a fountain which stood behind a large pool of questionable-looking water. Not all fountains contain drinkable water, but usually they are marked one way or the other. This one wasn’t. “Es potable?” I asked a woman with glasses who was lounging on the nearby cement wall. She gave me a friendly shrug. I filled up my bottle anyway and continued on.

A bit later, I was taking a break near a stream when the same woman came up to me. “You walk as slowly as I do!” she remarked excitedly. Her name was Marta and she was from the Dominican Republic; we continued the rest of the morning together.

Just after noon, we reached Casa Morgade, where I would be staying the night. As we waited inside at the bar- I to check in and she to order food- the tall dark-haired man behind the counter asked if we would mind waiting a few minutes, since the lunch rush had just started. It was not a problem, so I started to do my hip stretches while the man took two plates outside to waiting customers.
“Did you see him?” Marta hissed. “He’s perfect for you! He’s good-looking! He’s so tall!”
“Yes, he is good-looking, ” I agreed.
As he returned, she continued, “I am going to find out about him for you.”
“Oh my God, shhhh!” I begged. The man passed by the bar, entered the kitchen, and then returned to the cash register.
“He’s not married! He’s single! I think it’s his family that runs this place.” Marta whispered entirely too loudly for the close quarters.
“Please, stop talking! You are way too loud!” I quietly warned her. Just then, I saw a suppressed smile on the man’s face as he turned to get a bottle from under the bar. Oh God. He had heard everything. I was mortified. I would now be to him The American Woman Who Thinks I’m Cute for the rest of the day. Wonderful.

Casa Morgade was a fantastic place to stay, one of the best I had seen on the Camino (and no, not just because the guy at reception was hot). When I was shown up to my room, I entered to find a cozy place with six beds. Not bunks. Beds. Hooray! With comforters and an electrical outlet for each bed. Hooray! Again, being a pilgrim helps you to appreciate the little things.

After passing out cold for two and a half hours in the afternoon, I shared a meal with my five new roommates and had my first taste of tarta de Santiago, or Santiago cake, a local dessert made with almonds. Yum.

It was good to be back.














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Day 34: León to Sarria (by train)

After over a week and a half of rest, two painful but productive massage therapy appointments, and a lot of tapas, I felt like I was finally ready to leave Leon and continue walking. The physical therapist cautioned me to go slowly, avoid carrying a lot of weight, and be sure to stretch thoroughly and ice my hip at the end of every day.

My last night in Leon was marked by several events. One was national in nature: Spain was playing the Netherlands in a World Cup match, and the entire city was going nuts. Spanish flags in storefronts. Spanish flags in the streets. Spanish flags in Irish pubs. Sadly, the game was a massacre, 5-1 in favor of Netherlands, after which the entire city of Leon collectively went out to glumly drink away their shared sorrow.

Which brings me to the second event: a bachelor party starting in the lobby bar of Hostal Don Suero, where I had been staying for the last 1.5 weeks. I had been watching the soccer (er, football) game in a bar around the corner with fellow pilgrim John from Ireland and returned to Don Suero to find the normally mellow lobby bar swarming with 20-something-year-old men. It was a celebration of the upcoming wedding of David, a young guy from Burgos, who was marking the occasion by drinking heavily and wearing a yellow M&M costume. (I had walked past the bar earlier when Spain scored its single goal; the men rejoiced by stripping off the groom-to-be’s costume and twisting his nipples while he bellowed triumphantly). Some of the men came up to me and started what was supposed to have been a flirtacious conversation, if I had understood anything they were saying in English.
“My tayyylor ees veerrrry reets,” he winked at me.
“Your …tailor is rich?”
“Hahaha. No. My taaaylor ees reeeets.“[here he made a thumb and forefinger rubbing movement indicating money]
Lo siento, no te entiendo. Your tailor; he is rich?”
“No!” – he laughed, then changed the subject. “Mmmmm, M&M! Mmmmm in your mouth, but no,” pointing to his friend. (What I think he was trying to say was “M&Ms melt in your mouth but not in your hand,” but it was a lost cause at this point). The inebriated M&M groom then spent the next five minutes arguing to me in Spanish about the architectural superiority of the Gothic cathedral in Burgos over that of Leon. Hilarious.

Mr. M&M called John “MacColaCao” because he was drinking cocoa at the bar (except he’s Irish, not Scottish)

Mr. M&M along with Jamie, the desk manager, and I

Hugging Stephanie, fellow American pilgrim

Leon had been a fantastic place to recuperate. Enough though I was thrilled to feel well enough to continue, I couldn’t help but start to miss it a bit as I was leaving.




Oh, my beloved hummus. How I’ve missed you. Why exactly are they selling you at a Roman market? That’s ok, I’ve missed you.




I was absolutely giddy, though, on the train ride between Leon and Monforte and then the shorter ride from Monforte to Sarria, from which I would be walking the next morning. The scenery out the window was magnificent, and I could see within a short time that the landscape was changing from the flat monotony of the Meseta to lush and hilly Galicia. I am a happy camper when I can look out the window of any moving vehicle while listening to my music. Sometimes I find that the lyrics of my music coincide with what I’m seeing. My iPod shuffled to “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and I smiled when I heard the line

For I’m bound to ride that northern railroad

Ah, I thought. How nice. *I’m* on a northern railroad right now! Then the following line:

Perhaps I’ll die upon this train.


Obviously, I am writing this post now, so all went well. Upon my arrival in Sarria, I checked into my hostel and ran into Stephanie, whom I had met the night before in Leon. Poor Stephanie would be starting her Camino the next day from Sarria but had heard nothing but horror stories of tendinitis, blisters, and health problems. She asked me for advice. “Just do your own thing, take your time, and you will be fine,” I answered.

I ended the night with a dinner of caldo gallego, or Galician soup, which was more than enough to satisfy my stomach. After my long hiatus, I couldn’t wait to get back on the road again tomorrow.

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Days 23-31 and counting – León

As I write this, I am sitting in the cafe/bar on the ground floor of my hostal, again doing the peregrina shuffle where I order breakfast at the cafe and stay on their wifi until I start to feel like a mooch. The wifi in my room is no longer connecting, despite being able to find the network and enter the correct password, so I am left to find other means of going online. The upside of staying here is that the cafe plays British VH1 all morning, which – gasp- actually shows music videos. I had forgotten what it was like to watch music videos. It’s like I’m thirteen again.

On Tuesday morning (June 3), the bus from Frómista to Palencia took about 50 minutes, and then a train to León took about an hour. My guilt for skipping ahead was tempered by the fact that I loooove trains. I love them. Although I admit that it felt crazy to be zipping by so quickly. It’s easy to forget how far a mile is when you are going so fast. At one point, the train ran parallel to the Camino, and I saw other pilgrims walking along and felt a little twinge of regret. As if in response, my hip started to throb: “Hey you! Remember me? I AM HURTING, so stop being a chickenshit and enjoy your train ride!”

I had booked three nights in a hostal in León which was not too far of a walk from the train station. It was also on the Camino heading out of town, which meant that when I finally left town, my walking distance for the day would not have to include the walk through town. (Haha, leaving town on foot. That sounds so funny now). The sun was shining and the weather was pleasant and warm as I walked down the riverside park to the street where I would be staying. I already liked León much more than Burgos.

I checked into my room: a tiny thing, but with amenities like a desk and a nightstand and a private bathroom, the height of pilgrim luxury. Nevermind that the designers had crammed everything into the tiny room without a thought for ergonomics: I calculated that only a person with a femur about half the length of mine could possibly sit straight on the toilet without their legs being directly in the bidet, but whatever. I can sit side-saddle. No biggie.


After a stop at the neighborhood supermarket, I spent my first afternoon in my room watching Game of Thrones in bed and eating candied peanuts. Glorious.

Here is a summary of what I have done (or not done) over the following days while convalescing:

Wednesday, June 4: Morning trip to megastore El Corte Ingles to purchase things like toothpaste and shampoo, along with general ogling of items that I have no room for in my pack. Learned about King Juan Carlos’ abdication. Afternoon of watching Game of Thrones in bed and eating candied peanuts. (Again, glorious). Met up for tapas with Lukas, Lynn, and Garrett. Discovered that I do not like the local version of blood sausage (!) because it looks like cat food.











Thursday, June 5: Visited León’s cathedral in the morning, where I ran into Tabitha, a pilgrim from Ohio that I had met at the cello concert in Burgos. We decided that our need for vegetables was greater than our need to stay on a budget and so ordered gorgeous salads at a nice restaurant. She said that she would be visiting San Isidro, where the kings of León were buried.

“The Kings of Leon?” I deadpanned. “When did they die?”


Kings of Leon, looking somber, but not yet dead (photo courtesy of






I also realized that my three days of rest in León were up, but that my hip in no way felt better.  Spent a while walking to different clinics, where I finally found a clinic that would see me even though I am not an EU citizen.  Was diagnosed with tendinitis, prescribed anti-inflammatories, and told to rest another five days.  Sigh. OK.  My only consolation was that this injury happened in Spain and that I was actually able to navigate the Spanish health care system in Spanish.  If this had happened in France, I would have been royally screwed.  We all know the extent of my French language skills.  

Friday, June 6:  The peregrina shuffle all day.  Joined Lukas, Colin, Jasmine, Chris, Anthony, and Ciara for dinner and karaoke to celebrate Chris’ last day on the Camino.  He would be leaving to return to Germany the next day.   Almost lost bladder control watching Anthony singing “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”  Declined to go dancing afterwards because tendinitis and dancing don’t tend to mix well.







Saturday, June 7 to Monday, June 9: I have entered full-on recluse mode, barely leaving my room (with the exception of meeting up with Jasmine and Colin for Burger King on Saturday night and venturing out for food that cannot be obtained at the hotel cafe). By Sunday morning, all of my friends have left town. My room smells like Tiger Balm, and I am all caught up on Game of Thrones. Starting to get a little bored and more than a little irritated at the lack of improvement in my hip.

Tuesday, June 10: Decide to be a bit more proactive about my hip, since pure rest has done little good. Spend the morning walking around town looking for physical therapy offices until I find one that has an available appointment that day. I return at 7pm and get beaten up on a massage table for the next 45 minutes, oscillating between embarrassingly loud laughter and yelps of pain as the sensation progresses from “ticklish” to “torturous.” (No exaggeration here: I was so loud at points that I was afraid that I was making a scene. But I couldn’t help it!) Despite the almost masochistic nature of the massage, I knew it was doing good. Sometimes it takes a little pain to loosen up the really tense spots. The therapist tells me that I do have tendinitis, but in addition, I have some areas of “fixation”- not quite sure what the translation in English is- and that the muscular tension has been affecting my range of motion on the left side. He recommends one more session and says that I can likely continue to walk – with caution- after that.

Wednesday, June 11: which brings us to today. This morning was the first time in a week that I did not wake up with little spasms and tension in my outer hip. The massage really helped. The next available appointment isn’t until Friday, so I will stay in León another three nights and then take the bus to Sarria on Saturday in order to finish walking the final 100k – slowly and without my backpack- to Santiago.

I have finished reading both Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Insurgent by Veronica Roth, so I downloaded Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. That should occupy me for a bit, and I am already getting stares from other cafe patrons as I laugh aloud while reading.

Thank you for all of your prayers and words of encouragement. The past ten days have been a huge letdown for me because I had really hoped to walk all the way across Spain to Santiago. I guess what I have learned is that I cannot always be in control of things and that I need to “roll with the punches,” so to speak. So again, thank you to everyone who reads and comments on the site. It is greatly appreciated.

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Days 21 and 22: Frómista

I was on the verge of tears all morning after I had made the decision the night before to stop walking. Not only was it a personal disappointment, but all of my friends would continue to walk, which meant that I didn’t know if I would ever see any of them again. I hugged everyone goodbye with a heavy heart.

I asked the girl who worked at the hostel bar where I would go to get a bus. Except there is no bus from Hontanas. Great. I could take a taxi to the next town… which also doesn’t have a bus. I would have to take a taxi all the way past the next Camino “stop” of Castrojeriz to Frómista, which has both train and bus service. Expensive, yes, but I really didn’t have any alternative.

As the taxi pulled up in front of the hostel, a Canadian pilgrim couple who had been sitting at the cafe tables outside drinking coffee asked me, “Where are you going?” “Frómista,” I answered. The husband turned to his wife: “Do you want to take a cab to Frómista?” “Sure,” she replied. They picked up their packs and threw them into the trunk of the cab. Sweet! My cab fare had just gone down from 45 to 15 Euro.

The cab driver, who looked like a Spanish Robert de Niro in sunglasses, was accustomed to talking to pilgrims and so spoke in a very clear Spanish that I could understand well. We flew down the road. I hadn’t been in a car in three weeks. Cars go so fast when you’re used to walking everywhere. My heart broke as we sped past both Chris and Jasmine along the road. It hurt even more as we rounded the corner and started to approach Castrojeriz: a gorgeous tree-lined road leads up to the town, where a castle on a cliff overlooks the cathedral of the old town. It was a clear sunny day, perfect for walking. I groaned in disappointment.

“Yes,” Manuel the taxi driver responded in Spanish, “but then you would also have to walk over that,” indicating past the town to a steep hill with an even steeper descent. “I’m OK being in a taxi!” I agreed.

We were dropped off in Frómista about 25 minutes later. I had just gone a distance that normally would have taken me two days walking in just under half an hour. Unreal.

None of the albergues opened until 1pm, so I killed time sitting at a local cafe/bar (which soon became the activity de rigueur in Frómista during hostel lock-out time: order coffee; use bar wifi for two hours until it becomes painfully obvious that you are loitering for internet access; find new cafe; repeat). There was another injured pilgrim sitting there: Jackie had been in Frómista for two days with terrible leg pain. She had been going for twice-daily sessions with a local massage therapist and provided me with the phone number there. She also recommended a specific albergue in town because of its negligible walking distance from a cafe, restaurant, and two bars (all with wifi). Advice from the expert!

I checked into the albergue just after 1pm, but a line of pilgrims had already formed in front of me. I told the hospitalero that I was having leg problems and asked if I could both 1) stay an extra night to rest, and 2) get a lower bunk so that I wouldn’t have to strain anything by climbing. When I entered my dorm room, I saw that all of the lower beds were taken. Almost desperate, I explained in Spanish that I was hurt and asked if anyone would be willing to trade me for a lower bunk. Some people were either injured themselves or elderly and so understandably didn’t offer, but one obviously healthy pilgrim wearing a beret and way too much makeup glared at me and flatly shook her head no. “Wow, guys. Thanks. Nice Camino spirit there,” I grumbled. I then asked again at the front desk and was transferred to a small unlabeled room with only two bunks, where I had my choice of either lower bed. HA! It pays to ask.

The weather in Frómista was beautiful and warm for a change. It was the first time in a long time that I could remember being able to (more or less) sit comfortably outside in short sleeves. At Jackie’s recommendation, I joined Sarah and Eveline from Germany at the corner restaurant for dinner, where the pilgrim menu did not look like a pilgrim menu. Again, for the first time in ages, I had a nice vegetable salad, spinach lasagna, and wine. No French fries in sight! The restaurant that Sunday evening was full of young couples with their smaill children enjoying the weekend. Not that I’m normally a huge fan, but Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook was playing overhead, and a pilgrim couple had stood up to slow dance. It felt really… civilized. Almost like I wasn’t wearing wool hiking socks along with Teva sandals. Almost :).

I went to my first massage session on Monday morning.  It was not comfortable for my hip, but I hadn’t really expected it to be.  The therapist recommended that I return twice, once in the evening and once the following morning.  By the time Monday evening rolled around, I realized that I didn’t need several more massages as much as I needed more time to rest.  And in a town bigger than Fromista.

The next morning, I was waiting around the corner for the bus.  I was biting the bullet and traveling ahead to Leon.



Sarah and Wham!-era George Michael


20140607-163823-59903233.jpg Frómista



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Day 20: Rabé to Hontanas

Distance walked: 11.5 miles
Music of the day: none

Today would mark a notable change in the landscape that the Camino passes through. The Camino was entering the Meseta, a wide flat plain with minimal elevation changes. Except for one just after the town of Castrojeriz the next day, there would be no steep climbs… but this also meant that there would be minimal shade, longer distances between towns, and not as many facilities as in the past.

I set out early (well, early for me!) with a piece of fruit in hand, planning to take a proper breakfast break in the next town, Hornillos el Camino, which was just under five miles away. It was chilly and partly sunny, but a nice morning to be walking. I had borrowed some ibuprofen from other pilgrims and had taken a nice dose earlier to help calm down my hip. I felt some twinges early on, but they disappeared after a few minutes of walking.

Along the way I met Paul, a pilgrim from Holland, and we walked much of the morning together. He was very knowledgable about the Camino, having walked it several times before. The rolling hills were slowly starting to taper down into the flatness of the Meseta. At one point, I even thought, “Wow. This is almost as flat and boring as the drive between Dayton and Columbus.” 😉

As we ambled along, the stabbing pain in my left hip returned. I got to the point where I had to put pressure on the front of my hip with my thumb in order to be comfortable enough to walk. This was not good. The next town would be my last stop for the day, even though it was barely noon. According to Paul and to my guide book, we were approaching a town, but I saw nothing. “It’s hidden in the valley,” Paul told me, and sure enough, after a few more steps the town of Hontanas appeared beneath us. We sat down at the bar of the private hostel in town, El Puntido, where I decided that I would stay for the night. (Bar+restaurant+private hostel+attached grocery store open on Sundays= good place to stay!) We were soon joined by Colin, who said that he would also stay. Paul said his goodbyes and continued on his way. I was sad to see him go: it’s amazing how close you can get to someone in just a morning’s walk!

Chris and Jasmine soon arrived in town, and, sick of the meat-bread-and-potato-based pilgrim’s menus, the four of us found the kitchen of the hostel and decided to cook dinner for ourselves. Groceries at the tiny tienda behind the hostel were slightly limited, but we had also found some pasta in the kitchen cupboards and made a big meal of pasta with sauteed vegetables (OMG! Vegetables! Remember those?) and grated cheese, bread, and wine. (The wine here is ridiculously cheap. We bought several bottles of decent wine for about 2.20 Euro apiece. It’s like the Spanish Three-Buck Chuck). It was a feast. We even had some left over for Anthony, Ciara, and Lukas when they arrived a bit later.

In the meantime, my hip was not feeling great. I was taking regular doses of strong ibuprofen, which sometimes helped, but usually didn’t. Jasmine said to me, “Well, see how it is tomorrow. You can always take the bus ahead.” Her suggestion horrified me. “Never!” I answered indignantly. “I’ll stay in this town for a week if I have to, and then I’ll walk. I’m going to walk to whole way if it kills me!”

I changed my mind later that night, when I woke up at 2am -exactly the time that I was due for another dose of pain meds – with my hip throbbing. I was despondent. This was not going to be possible. I had planned this Camino and wanted to do this for so long. It is the most frustrating thing to have the will to do something but a body that will not cooperate. I was going to have to go ahead by bus to the next bigger town (Hontanas does not even have a pharmacy) and rest there. I hoped that maybe I would be able to continue in a few days. Only time would tell.








Saying goodbye to Paul



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Day 19: Burgos to Rabé de la Calzadas

Distance walked: 8.9 miles
Song of the day: none

Even though I woke up at what would normally be “sleeping in” time, because we had stayed out so late, I was definitely affected by the lack of sleep. I took forever to get ready in the morning: slow shower, slow bag-packing, slow checkout. My head felt like it was full of mud instead of brains. I wasn’t hung over, just incredibly foggy. I just couldn’t get my act together.

I dragged myself outside, where the weather was rainy and really cold. Breakfast at cafe. ATM withdrawal. A stop at El Corte Ingles to get on-the-road groceries, only to find that this branch had no supermarket. Purchase of sunscreen instead. Blaaah blaaah blaaaah.

My hip had already started to act up again. I was almost out of ibuprofen, but I couldn’t bear the thought of going into another store. I was leaving town so late in the morning. I didn’t know what town to walk to today. I didn’t want to walk up the multitude of steps to reach the Camino in town, so I just walked in the general direction of where I was supposed to go, which made me paranoid that I was not going the right way. Blaaah blaaah blaah.

I made it onto the Camino and followed it out of town. I was so happy to be leaving Burgos for some reason. The temperature would warm up enough where I would sweat, but as soon as I would take my fleece off, gusts of cold wind would pick up. The sun would peek out, and I would take off my rain gear only to feel raindrops minutes later. Blaaaah blaah blaaah.

At one point, the Camino abutted a rail line, and every so often, a Renfe train would whiz by. Ooh, I thought. A train. I used to go on those before I got the bright idea to start walking across Spain.

I decided to stop in Rabé (or as I like to call it, Broccoli Town) because my hip was bothering me enough to convince me not to continue. I checked into a private hostel there , where I unpacked and found that I no longer had my silk sleep sack. Great. The hostels have been chilly lately in the cold weather at night (Spain! Listen to me! It is almost JUNE! Warm up!), so I was not happy. I showered and took a nap, hoping that the rest would do me good.

I awoke to Colin’s voice in the hallway: he had checked in, but the others had decided to stay in the previous town. I got up, took some more ibuprofen for my hip, and then looked for my headphones; I use their microphone when I make Skype phone calls because otherwise the sound doesn’t come across well on my iPad. They weren’t in my bag. I ransacked my belongings. Nothing.

Yeah… and then I kind of lost it.

I tend to feel sympathetic for any dude that has to deal with a hysterically sobbing female, because he always has this uncomfortable look on his face like, “Oh crap. She’s crying. What am I supposed to say now?” Poor Colin did the best that he could, offering some advice and getting me cup of tea at the nearby bar, which was really the only other thing open in the small town. We got some dinner and were treated like gold by the owner, who gave us each a little Virgin Mary medallion on a string and to me, the biggest tortilla sandwich I had ever seen. I was also considerably cheered by the fact that I was able to access Game of Thrones again. (Couldn’t watch because the bar was too loud; coming soon to a rest day near you!) I was just going to have to play it by ear with my hip, but this string of crummy days was not at all helping my Camino morale.










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Day 18: Burgos

It was so nice to sleep in today. I got some breakfast at a cafe near my hostel, which was very close to the Arco San Juan entering the old part of the city.

For a rest day, my day wasn’t actually that restful. I spent the morning walking around the gorgeous Burgos cathedral. Admission was €7, kind of steep for a cathedral, but it came with an audio guide, so I couldn’t complain.

I spent the rest of the day doing errands: finding somewhere to wash my filthy clothes, finding a pharmacy that sold travel-sized contact solution, etc. I walked to the municipal albergue (which had been full the night before) and was allowed to use their washing facilities. There was a line to use the washers and dryers, but luckily a really kind Irish woman named Colette only had half a load and offered to throw my clothes in with hers. Yay!

In the past few days, I had learned about a pilgrim who is traveling with a documentary crew. Dane Johansen, a musician, is walking the Camino carrying his cello in its case and stopping along the way to give performances in cathedrals and churches. I had seen ads for his concerts in other towns but didn’t know the whole story behind it. I was happy to hear that he would be playing at a monastery in Burgos that night. Colin and I decided to go; we watched a roughly hour-long performance of Bach pieces and a shorter work by a Spanish composer. I was so impressed by this guy’s Camino stamina: the last thing that I would want to do after an exhausting day of walking is perform a musical instrument for an hour in front of cameras and a room full of strangers! I spoke to him for a bit afterwards: turns out, he went to high school and music school in Cleveland. (‘Cause Cleveland rocks, you know 😉 ).

The whole gang got together once again in the evening for tapas and karaoke. Minus points to Piano Bar in Burgos for the following:
1. Poor selection of rock songs
2. Speeding up the tempo/ changing the key of popular songs
3. Using video footage that shows the lyrics after they’ve been sung. What’s the point of THAT?
But it was worth it to hear Chris sing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath; Colin and Jasmin also got in a good version of “Losing My Religion.” In the end, we stayed out way too late, but (to paraphrase Colin), that would be Future Becky’s problem.






It’s Jaime Lannister’s hand!











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