Monthly Archives: July 2014

When in Rome

My flight out of Santiago left at 6:45am, but the buses from town to the airport don’t run that early. Since I really didn’t feel like sleeping in the airport overnight (which several pilgrims did; no thank you!) I splurged on an early-morning taxi. I almost had a heart attack going through security at the airport. Something kept on scanning in my carry-on bag, and the woman who worked there repeatedly asked me with suspicion what I might have that was setting off the sensors. “A knife?” she asked warily. “No, I don’t carry a knife,” I answered, confused. I frantically rummaged through the compartments of my daypack to see what the offending item could be. To my horror, I slipped my hand into a small interior pocket and pulled out my little Swiss Army knife. “Oh nooo…” I moaned, knowing that it would probably be confiscated. I have no idea how my knife could have gotten into that pocket (unless I had maybe placed it there for the Finisterre trip in case we decided to buy supermarket food for lunch). Luckily, she measured the largest blade, and somehow it was small enough to fall into what must have been the “bread and cheese” category and not the “serious threat” category, and I was able to keep it. (I still do not understand the rationale behind this, but I was not about to argue with her; I like my knife!) I sheepishly threw it back in my bag, knowing that I was now That Stupid Passenger At Security that I had always mocked before, and headed to the gate.

My flight was not direct but flew through Madrid, where I had a few hours to kill. The design of the Madrid airport is gorgeous. Airy and modern with plenty of natural light, it puts other airports to shame (ahem, Boston Logan Terminal E).

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On the flight, I had to begin the process of switching the Spanish in my head to Italian, which proved to be no easy feat. I sat next to a Spanish woman who for some reason tried to converse with me in Italian even though it was apparent that neither of us spoke it well. She would also proudly answer me in whatever English she knew. I would offer her something while speaking in Spanish, and she would accept, perk up, and beam, “THENK you VER-y MUCH-a!”

Once in Rome, I took several trains to reach the subway, which took me to the neighborhood where I would be staying the next four nights. I had booked a place online at booking.com (which, by the way, I quite like. They offer the option of looking for a single room for one person- including or excluding dorm beds in hostels depending on your preference- and frequently allow cancellation or changes in reservation at no cost). I had reserved the most reasonable accommodation I could find; no 10 Euro pilgrim albergues here! The place was a casa religiosa, which appeared to be a mix between a school and a seminary with conference rooms and a large chapel inside. When I reached my room and saw a crucifix and picture of the Annunciation on the wall, I smiled: it felt like I was still on the Camino.

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I had been in Rome 15 years earlier, so my goal was just to take it easy but see some of the sights that I had missed the first time around. My first night, I took the metro to the Spanish Steps and sat there eating a piece of pizza and a Coke. Gelato in hand, I wandered past cozy restaurant patios and came upon the Piazza Populo, where a MASSIVE free concert was going on. I was amazed at the relatively relaxed security: I was able to walk up the street behind the stage and watch the show from amidst the statues on the nearby hill. In the US, my guess is that the whole area would have been roped off and guarded, so I appreciated the opportunity for a good view!

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On Saturday, I took a bus down the Via Appia to the Roman catacombs. The tours there are brief (around 30 minutes) and are offered periodically in several different languages. Even though we only saw a tiny fraction of the underground passages, I can understand why they do not allow entrance without a guide: it would be nearly impossible not to get lost! The cold subterranean tunnels also provided a welcome break from the heat of the afternoon. Many members of my tour group were priests and seminarians from Nigeria, so I spoke to them for a bit after the tour. On the way home, I decided to take the scenic route, buy a gelato, and walk past the Coliseum on the way to a different subway station. It was kind of pleasant to sit next to Roman ruins and just read a book!

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So I had dropped the ball when it came to planning my Rome trip. I had intended to go to the Sunday Papal Mass but didn’t realize until it was too late that you need to reserve a ticket to even get in. Oops. I settled for going to St. Peter’s on Sunday at noon to hear the Pope pray the Angelus. I got there around 11:40, which was not nearly early enough, because the square looked like this:

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That square gets crowded, man! I was forced to decide between two options: a direct view of both the Pope and the scorching sun, or a spot beneath the columns in the shade that was in, uh, earshot of the Pope. I thought like a dermatologist and stayed out of the sun but was able to get this shot by extending my arm around the column that blocked my view:

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[Fast forward: Two days later, I returned to the square and was able to take a normal tourist shot of myself without the massive hordes of people:]

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But those hordes were all there on Sunday, when I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get into 5pm Mass. I had forgotten just how enormous St. Peter’s Basilica is. Beautiful, but enormous. It’s like a holy airplane hangar. Sometimes I can feel almost overwhelmed in such a large space, so I focus on little details. It helps keep it in perspective for me.

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Back at the hotel, I had met another solo traveler at breakfast, Julia from Russia. As much as I like to travel alone, it is always nice to have someone to share a meal with. We went to dinner at an inexpensive restaurant around the corner from the hotel. The waiter brought us our silverware, glasses, and one lemon-scented wet-nap.

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When Julia kindly reminded him that there were two of us and asked if he could bring another, we ended up with this:

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We went shopping for souvenirs on my last day in Rome. In addition to the standard Rome/Italy offerings, there was a plethora of Pope-related memorabilia for sale: some of it pious, some of it funny. I saw delicate rosaries and prayer cards, but in the same store I also saw cigarette lighters of the Pope giving the thumbs up sign like the Buddy Christ :). Satisfied with our purchases, we stocked up at a grocery store (note to self: prepackaged salads are cheaper in Spain) and, with the addition of some of Julia’s leftover pizza, had a feast for lunch back at the hotel.

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In addition to all the fun in Rome, I took a day trip to Pompeii. But that’s a story for another post :).

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Post-Camino Santiago

I had given myself a few days in Santiago after finishing the Camino to recoup, repack, and plan the following few weeks of travel. While I had been walking, it had been difficult to think about anything further into the future than reaching Santiago, so I whipped up a tentative itinerary, booked my major transportation, and emailed the friends that I would be visiting in Germany. I went to the post office to send home as much as I possibly could without completely breaking the bank (goodbye, compostela,, trekking poles, guide book, and hiking socks!) FYI, the people who work at the Santiago post office – and actually, at all of the post offices that I had used in Spain- are incredibly helpful. A big thumbs up and thank you to them for helping me lighten my backpack!

“Business” stuff aside, it was nice to be able to spend a few days in one place again. I was staying at the Hotel LaSalle in a 4-person dorm room. I had sworn up and down that once I was off the Camino, I would not stay in dorms for the rest of my travels, but this room was actually very nice. It had a bunk and two single beds along with a large bathroom in a cheerful orange color. Every afternoon when I arrived in my room, I would be the only inhabitant and hoped that it would stay that way. But when I would return every evening after dinner or going out, a new roommate would be asleep in the neighboring single bed. Luckily, all of the roommates I had in Santiago were considerate and very friendly. My first roommate Giordi was a barista from Italy (haha, yeah I know) and accompanied me and Jasmin on the bus to Finisterre. On the night that I returned to Santiago, I met Jin, a woman from South Korea who has been traveling solo in Europe. We shared a long brunch together at a nearby bar before she had to check out.

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The last night, Jin’s former spot in the dorm room was occupied by Maria, a student from Italy. She and I joked that you can sometimes tell a person’s country of origin from their shoes. On the Camino, you could always distinguish the pilgrims from the other tourists because the pilgrims would be wearing hiking socks with Teva sandals or Crocs. “In Italy,” Maria said, “when we see people wearing those sandals, we know that they must be German, because no Italian would wear something so ugly.” LOL.

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Arya, my Camino friend from Finland, sporting a well-deserved Camino shell necklace and coordinating-colored Crocs (which actually look pretty, compared to my ugly beige hiking sandals)

Maria and I enjoyed a good dinner of tapas and beer. I marveled at the differences between tapas offerings throughout the country. Galicia is famous for its seafood, so every restaurant and bar claimed to have the best pulpo, or octopus, in town. I tried a little, but it’s not really my cup of tea.

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Maria enjoying her pulpo

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I walked around town a bit on my own, too. I visited the Franciscan church, which is also distributing special compostelas as this year marks the 800th anniversary of the pilgrimage of St. Francis of Assissi to Santiago.

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Of course, I also wanted to buy some souvenirs. I told myself that if I finished the Camino, I would treat myself to a shell necklace and a Camino-designed Buff. (For those of you who are not familiar with Buffs, you can look at two-thirds of the photos of me from the Camino. The green or purple headbands that I am wearing are not actually bandanas but Buffs. They are lightweight, can be worn in a dozen different ways, and are on my list of Indispensable Travel Gear. I don’t leave home without one!) Like any other touristed city, Santiago has a myriad of shops selling jewelry, rosaries, shell memorabilia, and t-shirts. I do think that the Peppa Pig and Sponge Bob (or in Spanish, “Bob Esponja”) pilgrim shirts take it a bit too far.

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Sadly, these were also the last days that I would be seeing many of my friends. Colin, J├╝rgen from Austria, and I searched for a karaoke bar on Sunday night, only to find it closed.

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Jasmin, Colin, and I said some emotional goodbyes the night that Jasmin left, but I wasn’t too sad, since I would be meeting up with Jasmin and Chris once again while visiting Germany.

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You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose

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Finally, we WERE able to find a karaoke bar that was open. And we hit the jackpot: TONS of great songs, both in English and in Spanish (although the DJ was kind of a jerk. No need to be snippy, dude). Any place that has Arctic Monkeys is A-OK in my book. ­čÖé The funniest part was the presence of two little girls who couldn’t have been more than six years old. Accompanied by their moms (?) they sang Christina Aguilera with very thick Spanish accents: “Ohhhh-WAH-oooo-ohhhhh! Ay-ee just wanna feel thees moment!” So cute. But it was one o’clock in the morning! I know we were on Spanish time, but do these kids not sleep?

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My flight out of Santiago departed just after sunrise on Friday, June 27. After a wonderful month and a half in Spain, I was flying to Rome.

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It’s Finisterre (and I feel fine)

No sooner had I arrived in Santiago and had a good night’s sleep did I pack my bags to leave. I would be returning the following day, but Jasmin and I had decided that we would travel to Finisterre, or land’s end, and spend a day there. Frequently, pilgrims who have just completed the Camino continue to walk either to Finisterre or to Muxia, both along western (or northwestern) coast of Spain. It usually takes about two days, but Jasmin and I opted for a much shorter two-hour bus trip to save time :).

Again, after walking, it felt really strange to be traveling so fast on a bus. From the window, I could see some pilgrims walking, but it felt good to be able to relax and passively watch the scenery pass by.

We arrived in Finisterre around noon and immediately sat down for some lunch at a German hippie restaurant across from the bus stop. They had delicious lentil soup with Indian spices but also a really funny menu. I love translations on tourist menus!

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I had booked a room at Pension Mirador for us, which was a good walk up the hill but had an amazing view. We immediately changed to head to the beach. After weeks of needing fleeces, long pants, and even hats on some days, the idea of the weather being warm enough for a bathing suit was tantalizing. Unfortunately, the water was still freezing (duh. It is the Atlantic) and the sun disappeared not too long after we arrived, but it was still pleasant to lie on a towel and read in the sand.

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A rainstorm was imminent. Since the faro (the lighthouse at the coast which marks the end of the Camino) was a four-kilometer walk away, we agreed to stay in that night and walk there the next day.

The weather was much better the following day. We walked for about an hour down the road and came to the cliff past the lighthouse. Many pilgrims take the opportunity to burn some of their belongings on the rocks to mark the end of their Camino. Since I would be continuing on my travels after leaving Spain, there really wasn’t a whole lot that I would be willing to burn. (You could see the charred remains of hiking boots as you scrambled over the rocks). The one item that would have been nice to get rid of was my pair of nasty liner socks that I had worn daily beneath my hiking socks, but these were not only made of synthetic fabric but were also so permanently saturated with Aquaphor ointment that I didn’t think that an open flame anywhere near them would be a good idea. I opted to burn a paper that had point-to-point Camino mileage and elevation listings instead.

Jasmin and I enjoyed this official last day of the Camino sitting on the rocks, listening to REM on her iPod, and then stopping in the cafe of the lighthouse for a celebratory gin and tonic. Satisfied, we retrieved our bags and boarded the bus back to Santiago.

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Quick summer update

Hello everyone,

So it is probably fairly obvious from the length of time between my most recent posts that I have had some trouble keeping up :). I finished the Camino on June 22, which means that I am ridiculously behind in writing! The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind of travel, so I have not sat down to write as much as I would have liked. I am currently in Slovenia studying and visiting family, so I hope to catch up on the posts here in between my homework, after-school activities, and exercise (which I need to work off all this awesome home-cooked food).

Thanks for your patience! More stories to come!

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Day 42: Lavacolla to Santiago

Distance walked: 6.5 miles

Due to the lack of albergues at an intermediate distance from Santiago, I had splurged a bit and stayed at a hotel in Lavacolla. The place was not much to write home about, although they did have a good wifi connection in the common area of which I took advantage to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. Priorities! I was getting strange looks from other patrons as I sat there in an armchair near the bar with my headphones on, whimpering and gasping and occasionally squirming and squealing during the fight scenes (did you watch this episode? Crazy!) Finally the bartender came over and looked over my shoulder at my iPad to see what the heck was my problem. “Ahh, Juego de Tronos,” he nodded sympathetically.

I had trouble sleeping. I had all of my stuff for the next morning laid out on the table, just like I would the night before a triathlon or a big trip. Even though it was going to be a very short day of walking and I had been doing this exact same thing every morning for four weeks, the sense of anticipation was so much greater now. I intended to get up relatively early, since I wanted to get into town before the hordes of pilgrims that were traveling from farther distances.

A good omen: it was sunny in the morning! My first sight of Santiago arrived when I had walked several kilometers: all I could see was a lake of fog covering the valley in the distance. I stopped for a mini-breakfast at Monte de Gozo, the sight of a large monument. (Apparently, I missed the sign for the actual pilgrim monument that overlooks the city. I would have had to walk about 500m off the course of the Camino to get there, but in my excitement I must have overlooked this. I kept thinking to myself, “Wasn’t there supposed to be something else here?” Oh well. Nothing that I can do about it now!) The anticipation was now palpable.

As the Camino descended down the hill and into the city, my legs went on autopilot. I sped through the outskirts of the city, passing by a British family that I had met in San Xulian. “Wow, you are flying!” commented the grandfather of the family. It didn’t matter to me: I wasn’t missing anything by walking quickly through the more modern parts of town.

Entering the old town of Santiago seemed surreal to me. I know that that word is overused, but the expanse of time between leaving Monte de Gozo and entering the cathedral felt almost trancelike. I followed the golden shells embedded in the concrete under the arch and arrived at the Plaza de Obradoiro, my final destination. I realized that it was the feast of Corpus Christi. A tremendous feeling of accomplishment rushed through me as I turned to face the cathedral, which was covered… in scaffolding? Nooo! Nevertheless, I had made it (and made sure to take the obligatory backpack-over-my-head photo to commemorate it).

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No sooner had I snapped some photos and taken several minutes just to absorb everything did a deluge of pilgrims flood the square. I was happy that I had planned to arrive early and have a little more solitude there. For the last time, I folded up my trekking poles, stuck them in the pocket of my daypack, and entered the cathedral. Maybe it was because I had just spent the last month and a half preparing to come here, but my visit to the cathedral was a very emotional one. I will be realistic here: I was basically bawling all day. I cried when I reached the city; I cried when I entered the church. I cried when I went to confession (I’m sure the priest just loved me). I cried when Mass started. I cried when Mass ended. It was mildly embarrassing but extremely cathartic. I felt fantastic at the end of the day and slept like a rock ;).

I had timed my arrival to be able to explore the cathedral, stop for another coffee-and-croissant breakfast with John and Vanessa, and still have enough time to find somewhere to sit for the Pilgrim Mass at noon. I had heard rumors that today they would be swinging the botafumeiro, which is a huge incense burner (or thurible: vocab word of the day!) which hangs from the ceiling of the cathedral. It takes up to eight men to swing it but is not present at every celebration. I was thrilled to see it hanging over the altar when I found a place to sit. Mind you, I was not sitting in a pew – these were already full over an hour before the Mass started- but there was a stone ledge at the base of a massive column which gave a sufficient view of everything. This place gets crowded! Several times before the beginning of the Mass a lector had to come up and ask everyone to be quiet. Also, they requested that everyone please not take photos or videos during Mass.

So of course, right after Communion, when the choir began to sing and the tiraboleiros stood up and took their places to begin swinging the botafumeiro, I looked around me and saw everyone on my side of the church poised forward, cameras and iPhones in hand, like the paparazzi anticipating the British royal family’s exit from the maternity ward. (I could get into a nice rant about how disrespectful I think this is, but I won’t). So, lifting my gaze to avoid the flashbulbs, I watched as the botafumeiro swung higher and higher, sailing through the air until it appeared like it would fly off on its own. It was a truly special ending to a long journey.

After Mass, wandering through the streets of Santiago felt like a reunion. Many pilgrims stay in town for several days after finishing the Camino, so I ran into a LOT of people that I knew who had finished earlier. I looked into getting my compostela at the pilgrim office, but the line appeared really long, so I decided to check into my hotel instead.

At the Hotel LaSalle, I found my extra bag, which I had sent ahead from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, waiting for me. It was like Christmas morning as I opened it. Non-hiking clothes! Bras that are not sports bras! Flip-flops! Makeup!!!My time on the Camino showed me what is a necessity and what is a luxury, so man, did this feel luxurious. I showered, napped, put on my luxurious cotton dress, my luxurious flip-flops and MASCARA -woo-woo! – and then went out to meet Jasmin, Colin, Garrett, and Lynn for dinner. We realized that we had all met within our first 48 hours of the Camino. Garrett and Lynn were the American couple from my first night in St. Jean who had commented about the weight of my pack. Jasmin was one of the Germans whose invitation for a drink I declined from my bunk bed in Roncesvalles, and the next morning I had met Colin in a grocery store. The fact that we had finished within 48 hours of each other was very meaningful to all of us (but we were still sad that Chris and Lukas couldn’t be there too!)

While passing by the pilgrim office after dinner, I saw that there was no line. I hopped in and had my compostela in hand within five minutes. Not bad!

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It was a wonderful day (even though the karaoke place that we tried to find later that night was closed ­čśë ). I am so grateful for my time on the Camino, which I can easily say was one of the best experiences of my life, injury and all. Thank you for all of your prayers, kind words, and well wishes during the last month and a half. I am already thinking about when I can return to walk again….

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Day 41: Salceda to Lavacolla

Distance walked: 11.5 miles

It had rained fairly hard overnight, and the morning sky was a blend of pinks and oranges. A voice in my head kept repeating that old maritime rhyme: “Red sky in the morning: sailors take warning. Red sky in the night: a sailor’s delight.” Once again, I was the only one left in the dorm room when I awoke. My guess is that most of the pilgrims who stayed in Salceda planned to leave early to finish the last 30k to Santiago in one day. That was still a bit far for me even though my hip was feeling OK, so I decided to err on the side of caution and only walk to Lavacolla, which is a mere 10k from Santiago. It would make the next day’s walk -my final one- very easy.

Since tomorrow was going to be such a short and early day, I was very aware that today was going to be full of “lasts”: last coffee-and-croissant breakfast, last “full day” (for me!) of walking, etc. I mentioned this to another pilgrim, who remarked to me, “Wow, you are really sentimental.” Why, yes. Yes I am :). So I took a picture of my last true Camino breakfast while sitting at a bar with John and Vanessa. (Funny note: the bar was playing candid camera videos on their overhead TV. I think I had seen some of these while on a flight once; apparently I found them funnier than the 50-something-year-old Spanish bar patrons did at 7:30am, since I was the only one laughing).

After passing through O Pedrouzo/Arca, the path veered off back into the forests of eucalyptus trees. Somewhere near San Anton, I heard music as I headed down the road past a residential area. Here, it was a motion-sensor audio recording for an upcoming albergue. Clever advertising, but also really funny:  

I have mentioned before that I frequently think about all of the other pilgrims that I have met on the Camino. Since the majority of them finished before me, I have no idea of how things went for most of them. So to my pleasant surprise, I saw this message from some of my earliest Camino friends painted on the wall of a tunnel:20140712-143926-52766915.jpg

I continued on, trying not to get run over by the kamikaze bicigrinos (a nickname for pilgrims on bikes) on the trails. This is another sore topic for some pilgrims who have walked on foot. There is a relatively high number of pilgrims on bikes on the last stretch of the Camino. Sure, there have been cyclists all the way from the beginning; most of these pilgrims would kindly signal verbally or with a bell that they were trying to pass, calling out a friendly, “Buen camino! as they sped by and leaving you with a view of their shell-bearing saddlebags. Again, I have no problem with pilgrims on bikes. I actually think that the difficulty in much of the terrain supersedes any speed advantage that wheels might bring. However, in this last 150k or so, it is much more common to see groups of men (often Spanish) doing the Camino as a weekend bike trip. There are fewer “heads ups” and sometimes your only warning is a short rumbling of gravel before a mini-peloton speeds past you. Maybe they have designed a shell-covered maillot jaune for the fastest Camino completed! (Tour de France joke. Anyone? Anyone?)

The anticipation started building once I could hear the sound of airplanes. Lavacolla, the ancient site of purification before the entrance to Santiago, is also home to the Santiago de Compostela International Airport. I would be done in less than 24 hours!

Upon entering Lavacolla, I saw a path leading down to a natural spring. The surrounding earth was tinted red due to the mineral content of the water. Another pilgrim that I had met in Salceda, Forrest, and his friends were in the water up to their knees. I knew that it was somewhat of a ritual to “cleanse” yourself before entering Santiago, but I didn’t have anything in my daypack to dry off my feet once they were wet and muddy, so I didn’t exactly feel like taking off my shoes and getting into the water. Not really sure what to do, I stepped down to one of the banks and awkwardly splashed some water on my arms. I felt kind of dumb. I said my goodbyes to the other pilgrims and continued to walk. I’ll figure out some other way of doing this, I thought.

And then, less than sixty seconds later and for the only time in my week of walking through Galicia, I felt droplets of water on my skin.

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Day 40: Casta├▒eda to Salceda

Distance walked: 11.2 miles
Song of the day: Not sure why exactly, but I was singing Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” all day. Have no idea where that came from.

The road leaving Casta├▒eda traversed gently rolling farmland. I caught up with Sonja in the morning a little farther down the road and we walked together until the town of Arz├║a, where I stopped to get food (surprise!) and she decided to go ahead.

It was nice to get out of the larger towns. The rural paths are so much quieter and more scenic. Over the past few days, there have been more and more eucalyptus trees in the forests. I wish that I could bottle the scent of walking through the woods here: eucalyptus and mint and grass. (Much better than that fertilizer factory from a few days ago). Everything is so lush, and despite the fact that Galicia is known for its rain, especially at this time of year, I have been extremely fortunate to have had warm, sunny traveling weather every day since Sarria. The green of the forest was so pleasantly overwhelming that I found myself thinking, “This looks like Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest,” even though 1) I have never seen that movie, and 2) uh, what? Isn’t that movie over 20 years old? Weird obscure reference, brain!

My accommodation for the night was to be in Salceda, though it took a while to get there. The albergue was off the beaten path and a little tricky to find. When I arrived, I almost thought that I had made a wrong turn because dude, this place was fancy. (As far as hostels go, that is). There was also a regular hotel on site, which may explain why this felt like the Waldorf Astoria of hostels. There was a small swimming pool, an elegant glass-walled bar and dining area, and a koi pond. We’ve hit the big time here, folks. The dorm room did look just like a regular dorm room, but it had kind of a fancy shower (which I failed to photograph).

After showering, I sat at the bar with a coffee and tried to update my blog using the unpredictable wifi. Just as I was starting to get that lonely feeling again, I saw two faces that looked very familiar. It was John and Vanessa (of risotto fame in Azofra) from Australia. Again, when you think that you will never see someone again, you are sure to bump into them at some point along the Camino. We had dinner together in the restaurant, which was possibly the only place that I have ever seen the pilgrim menu offer mussels. (Note: I did try them, despite my typical suspicion of most shellfish, and was shocked to discover that they were delicious. I attributed this to the fact that they were “cooked” in an acidic salsa , so I probably tasted more sauce than gummy fish. But still. This was a milestone for me).

The sky had been overcast all afternoon, black clouds rolled in, and hints of a drizzle came down in the early evening. I had a feeling that my good weather luck had come to an end, but there were only 30 kilometers left to go. I hoped that I could squeeze in my last two days of walking and avoid a traditional Galician downpour.

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Day 39: San Xulian to Casta├▒eda

Distance walked: 11.4 miles
Song of the day: “Taking It Easy Too Long” by Blitzen Trapper

The night before, the owner of Casa Domingo had let us know that she had to take a family member to a doctor’s appointment early in the morning, so the bar would not be open for breakfast. In a way, this was good, because it would force me to get a bit of ground covered before stopping to eat. (I take food breaks fairly often. I tell people that it’s because I want to get a stamp for my credencial, but I just really like to eat ­čśë ). I set off through the fog-covered wooded paths and walked three miles until the next town, where I stopped for my requisite croissant and cafe con leche.

It was like a reunion at the outdoor cafe. I saw people that I hadn’t seen in several weeks and thought I might never see again, the Quiet Americans from two nights earlier at Casa Molar (to whom I introduced myself and promptly thanked), and several pilgrims I had met in Fr├│mista. I find it funny that even if you don’t remember people’s names, there is always some descriptor that you can use to single them out. For instance, in addition to my actual name, I now respond to “the dentist” and -weirdly- “hip girl” (which is unfortunately because of my now-renowned injury and not because I am such a cool, cool chick). I also met a pilgrim from South Korea whose relatives own a sushi restaurant near my old neighborhood in Boston. Small world!

Oh, and the croissants at this place were as big as my head.

I continued to walk with Jasmine for a bit; outside the next roadside restaurant we found a litter of tiny kittens, including a striped orange one that was the twin of little Santiago that I had met in Gra├▒on. Jasmine toyed with the idea of adopting him and bringing him back to Germany with her. She let him go, but was later disappointed when she mentioned her plan to Chris over the phone and he asked her why she hadn’t brought the cat home!

A while later, during my coffee break in Furelos, I sat at a cafe and watched on the nearby TV as they showed the footage of Juan Carlos’s abdication of the Spanish throne. It was exciting to be in Spain for such a big event (although, truthfully, the World Cup was probably getting more attention nationwide!)

Something else that has been noticeable during the last week of walking through Galicia is the presence of signs written both in Spanish and in Galego, the local language. It bears some resemblance to Portuguese, and most of the locals speak this along with castellano, or Castillian, which we would consider “Spanish.”

My last stop of the day was a small, family-owned albergue in Casta├▒eda, Casa Santiago. There, I ran into a lot of familiar faces. Sonja and Innege, two pilgrims that I met in Hontanas; and Roger and Isobel, the British couple who had arranged to take my room in San Juan de Ortega when my hip had started acting up. With the addition of another pilgrim from South Korea, the six of us filled the tiny hostel to capacity. Roger showed us a small booklet of sketches. Instead of writing a daily journal entry, he takes time out every day after walking to sketch a scene from that day’s town in colored pencils. (I tried that once on an earlier trip to Spain. Let’s just say that Roger has a hell of a lot more talent than I do!) We had a group dinner outside, where for the first time in memory it was warm enough for me to wear shorts. The evening ended with a viewing of the World Cup match between England and Uruguay inside in the bar. Isobel and Roger are die-hard soccer fans, but they toned down some of their cheering so as not to annoy the very sweet owner of the albergue, who was from Uruguay.

As exciting as it was to be nearing Santiago, I also noticed a underlying sense of sadness developing within me. In just a few days, my Camino would be over. I wondered what it would be like when there is more to think about than where you will sleep that night and where your next meal will be. The stark difference between the simplicity of this pilgrimage and the complexity of “real life” makes me wonder how much of that complexity is necessary versus how much is self-inflicted. It was something to think about as I continued on.

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