Camino 2 - 2005/2006

October 3, 2005


Exactly one year after completing my first Camino I decided to re-walk the pilgrimage route to try and recapture its special spirit. This time my pack would be lighter; from 8 kilos I was able to cut back to 6.5 by using a smaller knapsack and a more compact sleeping bag ecumenically named Little Buddha as well as wearing lightweight runners’ tights and technical tee shirts. The rest of my kit remained the same, but Mo stayed home. One trip is enough with a stuffed moose!

Bill drove me to the TGV in Paris. We said our goodbyes on the quai and I was off on the morning train to Bayonne. After a few minutes of emotional shock and slight depression at being alone the five-hour trip went quickly. At Bayonne I changed to the tiny two car local train for Saint- Jean-Pied-de-Port. It was easy to spot other pilgrims. All had knapsacks, wore hiking boots and looked slightly apprehensive. I sat next to a woman from Tahiti who was also redoing part of the Camino since she had found her first journey so unforgettable. We compared memories.

At Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port I revisited the offices of the French Amis du Chemin and obtained my new Credencial or pilgrim pass and scallop shell. The Credential allowed me to stay at pilgrim albergues and would be stamped at each stop. The shell is a symbol of St James and visually identified me as a pilgrim. I hung it with pride on the back of my pack. Many carved shells decorate doorway lintels and latches along the old streets of the town. Three Italian pilgrims and I went to the Amis’ albergue, had a simple supper and would sleep in the same co-ed dorm. The three repacked their heavy knapsacks several times once they realized how small mine was!


October 4, 2005


The Italians and I set off together in a chilly dawn. Our trail to the Spanish border crossed farmland. At Valcarlos where the albergue is run by the town I stopped while the Italians continued on. I got the key, paid my donativo or contribution and took a welcome hot shower. After a hearty late Spanish lunch in a near-by restaurant I called Bill to wish him well on his journey to the states and spent the afternoon reading alone. Late in the day an older French bicyclist arrived. A retired farmer, he was so surprised to find an American woman who lived in France walking on the Camino that he cell-phoned his wife with the news! Discussing our philosophies and dreams he and I talked for a long time during the evening over several hot cups of tea.


October 5, 2005


In sunshine I climbed up 19 k to the famous mountaintop monastery at Roncesvalles. The hike was tiring but not as exhausting as it had been the year before. At the Ibaneta pass purple autumn crocus bloomed along the steep path. By chance the bicyclist from Valcarlos arrived just after I did. After lunch together we shook hands and wished each other “Buen Camino”. We never met again. That night spent in the 80-bunk, unheated dorm with a handful of other pilgrims was very cold. How might it be in winter?


October 6, 2005


Without breakfast through fog lit by early morning stars I started west from the monastery. The descending trail crisscrossed gated farmland. Walking past Zubiri where I had stayed in 2004 after a tiring day of 26 k I arrived at the crowded municipal albergue in Larrasoana. Arriving at the single shower stall I collided with an exhausted Australian chap. Laughing he bowed and graciously said “Since I’ve waited 3 days to get clean another 15 minutes hardly matters. Please go first”. I did. The hot water was great! For dinner he and I joined some other pilgrims at a local café. Later as I climbed into my sleeping bag my legs began to ache. Was I trying to walk too far too quickly?


October 7, 2005

Cizur Menor

The trail meandered along the river Arga. At times the weather was actually hot and humid. Since the Trinidad monastery at Arre where I had stayed previously was closed for restoration I continued to Pamplona. Revisiting the handsome cathedral and cloister was an aesthetic pleasure, but crossing the busy city was nerve wracking. It’s difficult to shift mood from pastoral hiking to congested sidewalks especially while wearing a full pack! After 20 k I stopped at the pleasant private albergue in Cizur Menor. By night it was so full that late arrivals were turned away.


October 8, 2005


Up well before dawn I was nervous walking in the dark. Today’s trail would climb up the Sierra del Perdon, which in 2004 had been an ordeal. Eventually a glorious sunrise exploded on the eastern horizon; a coral orb began to light the now pale blue sky while I ate a breakfast cereal bar, drank a bit of water and hoped for the best. Then the trail began to really rise. Mid morning at last the mountaintop was reached with its wonderful line of sculpted metal pilgrims in silhouette. Continuing down to Obanos was not too difficult. Much of the sunny afternoon was spend sitting in the park waiting for the pleasant albergue to open. An Argentine couple and I were the only pilgrims.


October 9, 2005

Puente la Reina

Starting early I walked slightly south to watch dawn break at the magnificent church of Eunate. This early Romanesque octagonal space surrounded by an arcade is truly timeless. Standing in solitary splendor in the midst of fields its shape links it to medieval buildings of the Knights Templer whose prototype was the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. An eight-part roof covers the mystical interior lit by a few small windows; I sat inside for a long time in awe and thanksgiving.

Pensively I walked back through Obanos and on to Puente la Reina. Passing the contemporary pilgrim sculpture where all the routes join into one Camino I crossed the famous medieval bridge and stopped at a private albergue on the west of town.


October 10, 2005


The bucolic route to Estella followed in part an ancient paved Roman path flanked with tall pencil-thin cypresses. Who had laid these antique stones and planted these age-old trees? Pondering the ghosts of history in 20 k I arrived at the crowded municipal albergue where a large wooden scallop shell marked the entrance. After sightseeing a bit and resting a lot I ate an early dinner in a good local café with some other pilgrims.


October 11, 2005

Villamayor de Monjardin

At the abundant wine fountain in Irache other tippling pilgrims and I shared an early morning drink. Refreshed I visited the massive Romanesque monastery complex begun in the 11th century. Now partly used as a cultural center, the interior of the church is simple and pure, the later fan vaulted cloister more elaborate. I stopped in the early afternoon in Villamayor de Monjardin at the parish albergue. This simple place offered welcome trail-side seats and hospitality to every passing pilgrim. The hospitalero was from Switzerland. She and I talked for a long time about life and the Camino.


October 12, 2005

Torres del Rio

Unfortunately, the good weather changed to heavy rain and the exposed trail became thick, slippery mud. I slid, lost balance and fell. There would be no shelter for 7 k. Bedraggled in my mud-splashed poncho at last I limped the hilltop hamlet of Sansol. There were no facilities but a kind woman leaned out her kitchen window and offered a steaming cup of café con leche. Delicious! At the cold municipal albergue at Torres del Rio four other pilgrims and I tried to dry out, get warm and relax. It was difficult. The rain continued and the toilets were Turkish. For comfort it was not too great. Eventually we five visited the splendid church. Octagonal like Eunate it too is associated with the Knights Templer. Since the albergue had no kitchen and the only restaurant in town was closed, the houseparents offered to cook us dinner in their nearby house if we paid for the food. We did!


October 13,14, 2005


I was sick in the night with tourists’ tummy. In continuous rain it was a cold, miserable up and down struggle of 12 k to Viana, the next town. One ravine, the Mataburros or mule killer, was well named. Crossing it almost did me in. Exhausted I collapsed in a small hotel. Unfortunately my room was up one flight of stairs. What an effort! At least it was warm and dry. After a full day of rest and several doses of Ibuprofin for the pain I decided to try and go on.


October 15, 2005


I should have rested longer. Walking 9 k into the city of Logrono was difficult; neither my legs nor guts were in condition. It was almost impossible to move. At the municipal albergue I met a Corsican man who had also fallen in the storm cracking three ribs. Next day depressed and commiserating we shared a taxi to the bus station. He left for Madrid and a train home and I for Irun and the TGV to Paris. The continuation of my second Camino would have to wait….....


February 19, 2006


Four months later I would set out again. After a series of trains throughout the day and into the night, I arrived back in Logrono. For winter weather thermal underwear as well as sturdy rubber sandals to wear with sox indoors, were added to my kit. The rest stayed the same.


February 20, 2006


Hoping for the best I repeated to myself the ageless term, Ultreia! Meaning further or onward, it has been spoken by countless pilgrims for courage across the centuries. Outside of Navarette in the countryside a few almond trees were blooming. One walker was wearing shorts! Might these be signs of an early spring? The municipal albergue was closed so I stayed in a new private one. It had many bunks and lockable chests to store packs, but no other pilgrims. Snuggling into my sleeping bag it felt good to be back on the Camino.


February 21, 2006


The 14 k hike to Najera was windy and wet; light rain turned into a hint of snow. While trudging in poncho, woolly hat and gloves yesterday’s intimations of spring seemed fantastic. It was great to get out of the weather into the large municipal hostel. Assembled from prefabricated one-story units it could hold 100 pilgrims; there were about 10. The kind hospitalero turned on powerful ceiling blowers for heat and helped everyone dry out his boots. Hot water for showers was plentiful.


February 22, 2006

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

It was cold but dry walking across frozen vineyards. Snow-capped mountains rose on the horizon. At Azofra my hiking staff was repaired while I ate breakfast. Mid Camino a medieval, stone cross marked one turn; how many countless pilgrims had passed this transition point across the ages? After imagining an unending timeless mob and conscious that I was treading where ‘their feet had trod’ it was doubly surprising when later in the morning the trail crossed a brand new golf course and upmarket housing estate! Tempora mutantur!

After 21 k I arrived at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The tiny parish albergue was in an historic building close to the cathedral. Unheated it was too cold to even consider a shower. An Irish guy and I shared hot tea and talk.


February 23, 2006


While revisiting the famous cathedral I heard the chickens crow! Within the sanctuary a live cock and hen are kept in a Gothic coop in memory of a local legend involving a pilgrim and an innkeeper’s daughter. Other visitors not acquainted with the legend were shocked as the farmyard call broke the religious silence!

The 6 k morning walk to Granon was cold, gray and slightly slippery as light snow began to fall. Fondly remembering my 2004 stop I arrived at the parish albergue. Installed within a church tower and always open, it is a special place. In the gloom I mounted the winding stairs. The sign still read “Welcome pilgrim make this your home”. The handsome common room, large fireplace and sleeping loft appeared the same.

No one was about. I made tea, took a hot shower, and listened to the wind now howling outside. At Spanish lunchtime around 3 pm. the hospitalero, a Cuban émigré, appeared. He and another workman were trying to repaint the church interior. Unfortunately the paint was starting to freeze! We three shared a great lunch and much later, huddled next to the blazing fire, dinner. Elsewhere it was really cold.


February 24, 2006


All night the wind blew. In the morning I asked about the weather forecast. “No problem, this is not the Montes de Oca”, replied the Cuban. Little did I suspect the ominous conditions hidden in his answer! Sad at leaving such a cozy place I walked 16 k across snow-dusted fields in milky sunshine to Belorado. The private albergue was cold, without heat, hot water or ambience. Fellow pilgrims were a group of noisy middle-aged German men; all snored.


February 25,26, 2006

Villafranca Montes de Oca

It started to snow in earnest. By the time I trekked 10 k to Villafranca Montes de Oca the Camino was covered with 2 or 3 inches. Walking had become dangerous. After lunch in a truck stop, I went to the municipal albergue. No one was about, but the front door and one dormitory were open. No heat in the radiators, but piles of blankets and a hot plate. Considering the alternative it was great! Mid afternoon I snuggled into my sleeping bag; outside the storm steadily intensified. As night fell the radiators started up. How lucky I was!

About 9 pm. the front door banged open followed by steps up the stairs. Resembling snow-covered yetis, two pilgrims stood at the foot of my bunk! One guy was French, the other Brazilian. We introduced ourselves and shared many cups of hot tea.

Early in the morning the Frenchman left. Outside was a winter wonderland. The snow continued to fall. Over breakfast of cereal bars and instant coffee the Brazilian, S, said he was a lawyer and recounted his story. He had come on the Camino as a religious penitent offering thanks for the recently improved health of his girlfriend who had been seriously ill. Landing in Marseilles he had been robbed. By means of the graciousness of various parish priests along the way, he had made it thus far without money or credit card. Wary, dubious and uncertain I listened. Eventually I decided to help, silently recalling that trust, the commonality of all pilgrims and the necessity for caritas are principles along the Camino.

Bundling up for the storm plastic bags over sox served as makeshift gaiters. Outside the snow reached mid-shin. No trail could be seen; only a few markers affixed to trees were apparent. Walking was treacherous. At a road crossing S and I were intercepted by the Guarda Civil in a four-wheel drive. Firmly stating that our lives were imperiled the police insisted on us returning
to the albergue. Their photographer took my picture.

Returning in their skidding van was really the risk, what a roller coaster ride! Back in the albergue S cooked pasta. In a cupboard of leftovers was discovered a half full bottle of Rioja wine. No rare vintage year ever tasted better!


February 27, 2006


The storm was over but it was still impossible to walk, since the next sector involved crossing the snow covered Montes de Oca. After taking the bus to Burgos we entered a café where the barman was reading the local paper. He looked up, looked down and then turned the paper towards us; our pictures were on page 3! No free coffee for the celebrities, however. We found space in the municipal albergue on the west side of the city. A series of wooden chalets filled with bunk beds and many other pilgrims, it was wonderfully warm.

Late in the afternoon sunshine I walked back to revisit the cathedral. One of my favorite representations of St James is in the treasury; small, about 30cm tall, in gold with intricate curly beard and hair, wearing his wide brimmed hat and iconic shell he holds a pilgrim’s staff complete with water gourd. Perfect.


February 28, 2006

Hornillos del Camino

S tried to call a friend in Portugal for money without success; I loaned him 100 euros and we went on. Back on the Camino the sun shone and sky was cobalt blue, but the temperature was below freezing and bitter cold. Although the path was flat the wind was fierce. Treeless this immense Castillian plateau known as the ‘Meseta’ must be hot as hell in summer, but it felt like the Klondike. We trudged 20 k across frozen mud and snowdrifts to Hornillos del Camino. Unheated, the municipal albergue was frigid, dismal and empty; at least there were blankets. An old farmer who lived nearby and served as hospitalero brought us cocoa powder and milk. We cooked pasta in the basement kitchen and crawled into our sleeping bags piled with blankets. Never in my life including the Canadian years have I spent the night in a colder interior space! Our breath hung suspended in the air!


March 1, 2006


We continued. The bitter weather was the same with brilliant sun, blue sky, howling wind, and frozen snow. In order to keep up morale we talked on and on. Half my age and trilingual in Portuguese, Spanish and English S said that I reminded him of his mother. He could be very humorous; when he imitated Dixie accents from the American South I shook with laughter as icy tears of amusement rolled down my cheeks. What a surreal situation this was! The oddity of the setting, the disparity in our lives as well as the heady mix of banal, philosophic and absurd conversation resembled some play by Samuel Beckett! One might call it “The Snow Job”. After 10 k we arrived in Hontanas. A new private albergue was open, well heated and spotless; the showers had marble floors and limitless hot water! True bliss.


March 2, 2006


The weather turned milder as we walked 20 k out of the snow and into the mud. After passing beneath the great arch of the ruined St Anthony monastery which once cared for medieval pilgrims we stopped at Castrojeriz. One bar with a Brazilian connection was most welcoming; the hot coffee and buttered toast were flamboyantly served! Deep sticky mud slowed the climb up the Mostelares plateau to Itero de la Vega. The private albergue was a dorm room within a simple inn outside town. Local trout stuffed with ham comprised the first good hot dinner in quite a while! In late evening two young German guys arrived lugging huge knapsacks.


March 3, 2006


In a light rain but blustery wind we walked 14 k to Fromista. On the edge of town the Camino crossed the 18th century canal of Castille. On the main square is the wonderful 11th century church of San Martin. No longer consecrated it is now a museum. Hundreds of different small figures are carved along the roof-line on the exterior eaves. S imagined returning here someday to marry his girlfriend. Nearby the municipal albergue was cold and surprisingly crowded. Additional pilgrims arrived during the night.


March 4, 2006

Carrion de los Condes

Hiking was cold and tiring against strong wind in heavy rain; covering 20 k was an effort. Along the way several contemporary sculptures cleverly depicted pilgrims. At Carrion de los Condes we stayed in the same Clarist monastery as I had been in 2004. In one snug dorm besides S and myself were 2 guys, a young Japanese and an older Quebecois named B. We four shook hands and performed a type of ballet in order to squeeze between the bunks and knapsacks; wet hiking sox and woolly hats were draped all over. Space was really tight!

B seemed hyper-fastidious as he repeatedly rolled the items in his pack to get the fit just so and rechecked his guidebook. He asked if we had met any other Quebecois nearby. When I answered no he smiled and explained. When planning his pilgrimage an acquaintance named A had decided to join him. After one day and a half on the Camino walking together became impossible. Their styles were completely opposite; B was too intense and A extremely relaxed. They separated hoping to never cross paths!! …And so it goes.


March 5, 2006

Calzadilla de la Cueza

We had breakfast coffee in the old Monastery of San Zollo. During the Middle Ages this had been a pilgrim refuge; today it combines a luxury hotel and Camino research center. Walking 16 k to Calzadilla de la Cueza in milky sunshine was a pleasure; the straight, flat path followed an antique Roman route. The hospitalero was most welcoming and the municipal albergue warm and comfortable. The one other pilgrim was a doctor from Indiana; unfortunately he had bad blisters. The four of us happily consumed a copious meal together in the only bar/restaurant.


March 6, 2006


Perhaps I “overdid” when enjoying that copious meal since I had tummy problems in the night. S had run out of my money so I loaned him another 100 euros. It was a long tiring 24 k trek across bleak fields. However at San Nicolas we had a delicious lunch in a small wayside place where I had stopped in 2004. Their rabbit stew was great! At Sahagun we stopped at the large municipal albergue installed upstairs within a old church. Plywood partitions divided the huge space into alcoves with four bunks in each. Unheated it was too cold to try a shower. The few other pilgrims included one guy traveling by bicycle. In the middle of the night footsteps stumbled up the stairs. Since there was no live-in hospitalero a local drunk had come in to sleep; he was gone by morning.


March 7, 2006

El Burgo Ranero

Next day we walked 18 k across a bleak plain to El Burgo Ranero. The weather was so mild that I removed one layer! Had spring come at last? Near La Graneras stood a monument in memory of father Millan Bravo Lozano. His invaluable guidebook, A Practical Guide for Pilgrims, had been useful for planning my trips. Two men were at the albergue. One, L, was also from Brazil and the other was the Quebecois, A. As if on cue he asked if B had been passed recently! After a welcome hot shower we all ate in the local truck stop.


March 8, 2006

Mansilla de las Mulas

The 20 k trek crossed monotonous, flat fields to Mansilla de las Mulas. Recurrent tummy troubles made it especially unpleasant and tiring for me. Other pilgrims at the municipal albergue included the two men from the night before as well as an older Belgian couple. They had walked from Antwerp and had been on route since early January! Without knapsacks they pushed their luggage in a remodeled ice cream cart!! Highly motivated and intensely focused they intended to walk back to Antwerp from Santiago; early June was their estimated time of arrival home! What perseverance!


March 9,10, 2006


Much of the 17 k walk to Leon was harrowing and dangerous since the Camino often crossed a busy national highway. We stayed at the Benedictine convent of Santa Maria de Carvajal. Centrally located near the cathedral it was very hospitable; at the entrance desk a big bowl offered delicious homemade cookies. Although it was a large place there were fewer than 20 pilgrims. Since I felt miserable I asked to stay two nights. The helpful hospitalero asked the Mother Superior and an exception was made to the usual one night rule. Feeling better in the morning I walked about the historic city revisiting the cathedral and the magnificent cloister of San Marcos. After S spent a lot of time on the telephone he announced that a bank debit card had been air-expressed to Ponferrada, a future stop about 80 k away, and asked if meanwhile could he borrow another 100 euros as a last loan.


March 11, 2006

Villadangos del Paramo

Breakfast before leaving Leon was delicious thick hot chocolate and thin strips of crullers, local specialties. At the handsome new church in Virgen del Camino the contemporary stained glass was splendid. Afterwards it was a long slog of 21 k in sunshine to the municipal albergue at Villadangos del Paramo. L and A were the only other pilgrims. After showers and a siesta we four had a jolly dinner within the caves of a nearby wine bodega.


March 12, 2006

Hospital de Orbigo

Walking was easy on the flat Camino in warm sunshine. We stopped after 10 k at Hospital de Orbigo where I had fallen in 2004. The parish priest kindly unlocked the albergue for us. Six men and I were the only pilgrims. By night the place, which was built around an open patio, resembled a setting from Tennessee Williams; all their stuff was spread across the patio! One Dutch guy who had just begun his journey argued that my second pilgrimage was mere tourism! I strongly disagreed and tried to defend my own motivations explaining that I walked the Camino in respect and awe.


March 13, 2006

Murias de Rechivaldo

It was a long walk across the fields to Astorga; the sky was cobalt, the soil orange and the sun hot. I took off another layer! Spring at last! However, on the distant horizon snow-capped mountains marked our future route. After a picnic lunch facing the archbishop’s palace designed by Gaudi we eventually stopped at a private albergue in Murias de Rechivaldo. It, too, was built around an open patio, but this was a new series of low volumes which used earth colored materials in the vernacular tradition. It was handsome and very comfortable. For dinner the helpful Swiss hospitalero cooked potato pancakes and chops with homemade applesauce!


March 14, 2006

Rabanal del Camino

The perfect weather continued as the trail started to gently rise. Nothing would be flat for the next week or so. Wondering how it would be crossing those distant mountains, in 15 k we stopped at a picturesque mountain town, Rabanal del Camino. Since the albergue run by the British Confraternity of St James where I had stayed in 2004 was closed, we tried a private one. It was packed with more than 40 pilgrims and yet only one toilet seemed to be working! For comfort’s sake I went to a small hotel; S stayed at the albergue. When we met for dinner he said that he had telephoned home and now would have to leave the Camino the next day since his mother was seriously ill. Shocked we talked of little else.


March 15, 2006

El Acebo

At breakfast S said that he had telephoned the only albergue in Ponferrada and told the hospitalero to give me the air-expressed parcel. We said our goodbyes, kissed each other’s cheeks and he left. Alone I started climbing up the trail to cross the mountains.
It was a beautiful solitary trek of 17 k in brilliant sunshine beneath a vivid blue sky.

I paused at the mythic Cruz de Ferro. At 1504 meters this is considered the highest point on the Camino. Throughout time pilgrims have placed a stone carried from home at the base of the simple iron cross which tops a tall wooden stake. Pensively I added my stone to the giant cairn and hoped for the best for S and his mother. Thankful of my own great good luck in just being I further hoped to be able to cope with whatever life might bring. Ultreia! Early in the afternoon I stopped at a private albergue above a restaurant in El Acebo. After a hearty late lunch and welcome hot shower I simply rested. No other pilgrims appeared.


March 16, 2006


In predawn blackness the restaurant chef knocked on the dorm door and said that breakfast was ready! On the way out of the village I pasted a memorial to a German pilgrim killed while cycling.

The trail was steep so I walked down the mountain on the road. After 15 k upon arrival at the only albergue in Ponferrada, I asked about the air-express package from Brazil. No package had arrived, nor had any of the three hospitaleros who lived on site ever spoken by telephone with S! “Nada”; there was nothing. Chagrined I wandered about town.

Since then the events of those days have been mulled repeatedly. In retrospect I do not want to believe that I had been milked for money in a real snow job! Hopefully all was not just a ruse and I had not been duped. At least what I did was done in the Camino spirit of trust and mutual assistance. I still firmly believe one must act towards others “as ye would that men should do to you”. Let it be.


March 17, 2006

Villafranca del Bierzo

It was cloudy and cool as I started out of town. The Camino was difficult to follow; the signage seemed particularly skimpy. A kind old man walking his dog led me back to the trail. Slowly it started to climb up into another range of mountains; the air became cold. After passing through the almost abandoned village of Pieros I arrived at Villafranca del Bierzo. 23 k was enough for one day! Only the private albergue was open and very crowded. New hot showers had been installed since 2004 when I had stayed. It is composed of an ad hoc series of volumes and levels surrounding an open courtyard. Past midnight the dorm door banged open. A British female voice loudly complained to her silent partner “but this is just a shack!” After two voluminous knapsacks thudded onto the floor, all the now awakened pilgrims yelled for quiet!


March 18, 2006


Through rain and eventual sleet I walked 18 k. Villages were more and more remote as the trail steadily grew steeper. At Ruitelan I stopped at a tiny private albergue. It was Buddhist yet very ecumenical. On the unpainted wooden walls were hung a Christian cross, pictures of the Dalai Lama and a card hand lettered, shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. The hospitalero offered a welcoming cup of hot tea. I was the only pilgrim. My solitary dinner, served on a scrubbed wooden table, included soup, rice, fried eggs, cheese, bread, wine and fruit. One fat candle lit the room and next to the clean cloth napkin was a long green iris leaf fresh from the garden. It was, indeed, perfect!


March 19, 2006

O Cebreiro

In the morning since all was slick with sleet and snow I decided to follow an old logging road and not the trail. Higher and higher I climbed in the cold air; wet snow and heavy sleet blew across the route. I could hardly see. Soaked and freezing after 9 k at last I reached the tiny hamlet of O Cebreiro on the mountaintop, altitude 1300 m. The few dark structures appeared to be shut. Afraid of hypothermia I quickly changed into dry clothes sheltered by the church entrance porch.

This special place is associated with a medieval miracle when the sacramental wine and bread actually became blood and flesh. Within the dark granite Romanesque interior many small red candles were flickering; a few parishioners entered for Sunday mass. Overcome with emotion I sat in the back of the nave and silently gave thanks. Later after lunch in the original medieval pilgrim hostel, which today is a restaurant, I went to the new albergue run by the region of Galicia.


March 20, 2006


While searching for breakfast I met a woman whom I had seen the day before within the restaurant. We talked about the Camino. A retired Canadian nurse she was a member of the British Confraternity of St James, whose guidebooks I had used. Her past treks were extraordinary! During the 1980s she had walked alone to Jerusalem in three months from Italy!! Such a pilgrimage would be impossible today. Once when she was walking the Camino the priest here at O Cebreiro was seriously sick. She stayed and nursed him throughout his terminal illness. In gratitude his family has given her local property where she spends much of the year. After breakfast I visited his grave.

Pensively contemplating these Camino traditions, this unique mix of divine miracle and mundane chance, I slowly continued. The trail was descending; the high passes were finished. At Linares the contemporary sculpture of a pilgrim faces west towards the open horizon. The 21 k walk to Triacastela was cold, wet and windy; exhausted I ate a late lunch and stayed alone in a private albergue, which was cozy and warm.


March 21, 2006


The landscape had changed; lush green fields were divided by low stonewalls. Green hellebores bloomed along the route. Spring was really here!

After walking 17 k in the fog and rain I stopped in a private albergue in the center of Sarria. An historic townhouse it had been successfully renovated into well-appointed common spaces and dorms; the interior walls were attractively painted and the furnishings brand new. The welcoming hospitaleros cooked a delicious hot meal. I was very comfortable! Late in the afternoon an Australian couple arrived. She worked for an NGO in Indonesia and he was a free-lance photographer just back from Afghanistan. What fascinating adventures they had had!


March 22, 2006


At breakfast the only open café was filled with pilgrims. I met a few from Britain who worked for the youth hostel association and an Italian lawyer from Turin. The lawyer and I hiked together 22 k to Portomarin. A light drizzle became continuous rain and the trail turned muddy, but the blooming camellia trees were beautiful. Everyone stopped at the private albergue; on two levels it had dorm space beneath a restaurant where we ate together. Getting all our outer clothes dry wasn’t easy.


March 23, 2006

Palas de Rei

A Spanish woman and I walked 24 k through heavy rain and very strong winds. Hiking was frightening as the branches snapped and the rain teemed; during one blast the rain cover on my knapsack blew away! We never did find it. Luckily my poncho could cover both the knapsack and me. In Palas de Rei the municipal albergue was crowded with soaking wet pilgrims and some very wet clothing as well as sleeping bags. Glad that heavy-duty plastic bags protected everything within my knapsack, I hated to imagine the discomfort of a wet sleeping bag! Several pilgrims ate together in a tiny restaurant nearby. Simple hot food tasted wonderful after the storm.


March 24, 2006


Slightly depressed while walking alone in the unending drizzle near Cornixa where the Camino passed close to the highway I went into a roadside place for tea and toast. The excessive bill depressed me further! After 15 k I stopped at the municipal albergue in Melide. Since it seemed dark, chilly and damp, I gave the showers a miss. However, hearty pasta and friendly conversation shared in the albergue kitchen with the three English hostellers, Rob, Tony and Cath, cheered me up. Suddenly we realized that Santiago was only 50 k away. In less than 3 days we should reach it!


March 25, 2006


The English three and I set off together. To escape from the drizzle we ate a picnic lunch huddled in a bus shelter. Eventually the landscape changed to tall eucalyptus groves and patches of fern. The path through these woods seemed much easier. After 15 k we stopped in Arzua at the municipal albergue. A handsome old stone school it had been most attractively renovated. Our dorm had a cathedral ceiling, the wooden bunks were well designed and the new tiled showers had abundant hot water. Bliss! Although we were the first to arrive by night it was packed with pilgrims.


March 26, 2006


We four walked about 19 k. For a few magical moments during the morning the sun actually shone! In the golden light the woods and trail looked enchanted. However by afternoon it was raining again with heavy winds. Outside the municipal albergue in Arca was parked the Belgian pushcart which I had first seen in Mansilla. The couple from Antwerp had been to Santiago; now they were starting their long trail back! After supper the Belgians, the three English and I nostalgically shared our memories. Recollecting some of the places visited and the people met each of us fondly remembered his Camino. As well I recalled how in 2004 after the first immediate euphoria of arrival in Santiago once off the trail I had soon felt sad and lost. Thus, now I hoped to continue walking to the coast; the English kids said that they might join me.


March 27,28, 2006

Santiago de Compostela

Rob, Tony, Cath and I continued. Several times the Camino crossed the highway; the traffic steadily increased. At Lavacolla we passed the riverbank where medieval pilgrims bathed before entering the city. Today this is the site of the international airport; a jet roared overhead! At Monte del Gozo, the last hill from which earlier pilgrims glimpsed the cathedral, today there is a giant camping complex. Tempora mutatur! …After 20 k in soaking rain finally the historic city with its magnificent cathedral was reached! Santiago de Compostela at last! My emotions were spinning. At the office of the Dean we presented our paper Credentials; after reviewing all the varied stamps representing each day’s stop during our journeys we were issued the treasured Compostela. Overcome I cried…. Late in the afternoon when revisiting the cathedral I sat alone in the dim light for a long time lost in thought.

It is not easy to find inexpensive accommodation in center-city Santiago. At one pension the owner said that he had an available apartment nearby. We could use it for 15 euros per head per night. Upon arrival it was clean and spacious. We four chose our beds; surprisingly during the evening others turned up to further share the space! Next morning after a delicious breakfast in a chic but inexpensive cafe I returned to the cathedral. Following the tradition of countless pilgrims I hugged the central statue of St James, which is gilded and inlaid with precious gems. After descending into the crypt to stop at the splendid silver coffer, which enshrines his relics, it was time for the pilgrim mass. Since it was Lent this would be a simple ceremony. Perhaps 15 pilgrims attended; we all sat close to the new altar. In the nave were a few other worshipers. A solitary nun sang the service; her voice rose pure and clear. All was timeless and perfect.


March 29, 2006


After a hasty breakfast in the good café and a fond farewell view of the cathedral, Rob, Tony, Cath and I set out for Finisterre. We should reach it in four days hiking. Known as Fisterra in Galician, this extreme point on the Atlantic west coast of Spain was considered the end of the world until the time of Christopher Columbus. A pagan pre-Christian route as well as a medieval pilgrim route had led there in the past. As we began to leave the city as if on schedule rain began to fall! It never ceased. The route was a constant series of up and down; never steep, but tiring and very wet. At Ponte Maceira beneath the renaissance stone bridge the swift water of the Tambre river was white with rapids. Crossing was rather frightening. After 19 k we stopped at the municipal albergue in Negreira. It was great to get out of the wet. Two German guys were also there. After welcome hot showers and stringing lines across the dorm to hang up our soaking things, we cooked pasta for supper in the communal kitchen.


March 30, 2006


During the night the wind howled and rain lashed the windows. In the morning the hospitalero, who lived next-door, suggested that we could stay the day and another night. However, we trekked on. All day the heavy rain was incessant; at times we walked through streaming water and not on a trail! It was a hard slog of 11 k to Vilaserio where an old school was under renovation for use as an albergue. New windows had been installed across the façade; they all leaked! On the interior were numerous puddles; it was damp and very cold! Cath slipped in water on the stairs, but thankfully was unhurt. On a portable burner Tony and Rob cooked something hot for us to eat. In order to sleep I wore all my dry clothes including a woolly hat!


March 31, 2006


At last the rain stopped! It was a long, tiring day; the trail meandered through many tiny stone hamlets but at least we were slowly drying out! After 21 k the four of us arrived at Olveiroa. The municipal albergue was great; a small group of stone farm building had been restored handsomely. Dorms and dining room were separate. Bright plaid blankets covered the bunks. The tiled bathrooms had hot water and good showers. Bliss! A handful of other pilgrims were there besides we four. All ate together in the common kitchen where the gracious hospitalero served steaming bowls of thick homemade soup, country bread, red wine and fruit. Delicious! How wonderful it was to be comfortable!


April 1, 2006


Early without breakfast we started walking. Nearby a new footbridge crossed the Hospital River. Looking down into the cold water I was glad that it had been built! The river and nearby hamlet are named for a pilgrim hostel, which probably existed in the middle ages. Luckily one lonely bar was open; breakfast was sandwiches. The routes to Muxia and Finisterre divided. Our trail became a wide path, which slowly climbed and crossed the stony hills. Once on top in the far distance we could at last see the coast! Beneath gray clouds the Atlantic resembled silver. In all we hiked 21 k to Corcubion.

Once more it began to rain. Tony and Rob went to buy food while Cath and I went to a cash machine. For some reason my card did not work! Was this some crazy April Fools joke? Now I had no money left with which to eat or travel home! While I was wondering what to do Cath kindly offered to loan me the necessary funds. She and I then started to look for the albergue; unfortunately it was further west out of town, up a creek bed or two and along some very muddy lanes. Upon arrival we all were exhausted and soaking wet! Only one or two other pilgrims were there. The hospitalero made us supper.


April 2, 2006


During the night from exhaustion, cold, wet or whatever Cath and I were both sick. I felt dreadful! Nevertheless it was only 8 k more. Since the rain had stopped we four went on.

The sun grew warmer and the air smelled salty. Along the way we had views of the last land, the end of the world! Walkers out for a simple Sunday stroll went past. Sand dunes and beach bordered the final stretch of the trail; fishing boats bobbed in the harbor. At last in Finisterre we stopped by the waterside antique cross and hugged each other! Eureka! I closed my eyes in silent thanks. All afternoon I sat by the sea deep in contemplation. …Much later when the albergue opened we obtained our certificates and Rob and I shared a final dish of pasta.

Waking up in the morning it was almost impossible to believe that this was, indeed, the end of the trail. After a rather jolly breakfast we four took a slow bus back to Santiago de Compostela. It felt wonderful to travel seated! Once back in town we walked to the railroad station, checked schedule times and suddenly had to say goodbye. We hugged, kissed each other’s cheeks and departed.

Alone on the train I wept....


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