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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 😉 ). 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: Castañeda 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 Castañeda 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 Arzúa, 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 Castañeda

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 😉 ). 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 Frómista. 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 Grañon. 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 Castañeda, 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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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: 🙂

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Crap.

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.

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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.

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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?”

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Kings of Leon, looking somber, but not yet dead (photo courtesy of salon.com)

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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.

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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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