Post script

After several complaints from our blog fans that the story stopped abruptly, I am taking the time on a rainy afternoon to update.

Our flight back to the states was uneventful.  I can verify that the Lisbon Airport is quite a shopping mecca.  Once back in Newark, we picked up our bags and walked them about 20 feet to another check-in point.  Then went through customs with plenty of time to spare.  We got into Houston early and took a cab (sorry, Uber!) to Robert’s house.  I managed to drive a little over halfway home before going cross-eyed.  E was totally wired and anxious to get home.  I crashed immediately.  It took E a few days to get some sleep.

Two days ago, we had been back for a month.  That was the day that the chiropractor was finally able to complete an adjustment on my back and neck.  Today was the first day that my feet were not painfully stiff in the morning.  Epsom salts work wonders.  I started a nutritional cleanse in early May that I hope will alleviate much of the imbalance from the trip.  I went back to work early this month but very slowly.

It feels quite strange to drive again after relying on taxis, buses, and trains for a month.  It feels odd to hold cash that is so colorless compared to Euros.  I am glad to be back in my own bed with the comforting purr of my cat nearby.

From my perspective at this moment, this trip took quite a physical and emotional toll on me.  And I am uncertain what the payoff is or if it was a fair trade.   Very little was restful about the trip.  We were constantly on the move.   We completed the walk in the only way that we could.  Yes, we had fun.  Yes, we saw some amazing sights and walked through the beautiful countryside of Northern Spain along an ancient path riddled with quaint villages and stunning cathedrals.

Everyone who asks about the trip wants to hear that it was transcendent and joyful.  While I had moments of splendor and grace, I feel that I am disappointing them when I say how grueling and taxing it was for me.   I am still healing physically from the experience.

Perhaps the emotional returns will take time to recognize.


The bus to Portugal was endless, 7 hours.  And no bathroom available on the bus.  There were maybe four stops along the way, one in Porto for 45 minutes.  The bus stopped at the Casa de Musica station so we walked to a monument nearby that was visible as we drove into the city.  It is a monument to the Peninsular War between the Portugese/British and the French led by Napoleon.  At the top of this monument is a lion sitting on an eagle.  From a distance, we thought it was a gryphon.

We arrived at Gare du Oriente (an architectural marvel), about 8:30 PM and took a taxi to the Pousada Palace de Queluz.   It was rainy but not quite as cold.   We crashed almost immediately and slept in.

We woke to more rain.  We toured the pink Palace de Queluz, once home to the Portugese monarchy which is just across the street – what an amazing place.  We are relieved to find that most of the Portugese also speak English.  We had lunch at a small cafe near the hotel – salads with no hint of iceberg lettuce!  Arugula, fresh tomatoes, feta, olives, balsamic vinegarette.

I am at the point with this trip that I cannot take anymore experiences.  I have seen too many old buildings with historical significance to appreciate anymore.  E is toying with going to Lisbon on the train to shop for painted tiles.  They are beautiful here in Portugal.  I am saturated and overwhelmed.  I am to the point where I am ready to get back to a regular routine.  I cannot believe I am saying this but there it is.  I want to go home.



Another change of plans…

Apparently, there was a bad storm in San Antonio last night.  Paul texted this morning with the news that my house was partially flooded.  There was large hail and a lot of damage.  Paul has wet vacuumed what he can and put in a call to the landlord.  Poor Moxie (my cat) was freaking out.  E got on the phone with the airline and we changed our tickets to fly home on Saturday.  We take the bus to Lisbon tomorrow, spend two nights at the parador there and go home.

We have quite a load of dirty clothes but do not want to pay the exorbitant prices (6 euros for a pair of pants) of the parador laundry service.  We attempted to find a laundromat but they don’t seem to exist here.  The place we were directed to is a dry cleaner.   So our socks and underwear are hanging all over the lovely room at the parador.  Oh well.

Back at the hotel, we started shopping nearby.  We realized that we could still make the pilgrims’ mass at noon.  The Santiago cathedral is phenomenal yet crumbling.  There is scaffolding around the South Tower.  I read online that they are removing cement from the turrets that was put in place in the 1940s.  The work is quite slow; they started in August of 2013.  The front of the cathedral is closed; visitors are rerouted to an entrance at the back.  If you like, you can get in line to go up steps to embrace the apostle on the altar from behind and there is an ornate silver reliquary of St. James underneath the altar.  The mass was fairly brief and although the majority was done in Spanish, a small part was in German.  The priest read out the number of pilgrims who had arrived the day before and where they were from.  Once the mass was over, we made our way around the cathedral to see each chapel.  All were different but equally ornate.  It was freezing in the cathedral.

After mass, we continued shopping until it began to thunder.   We went back to the parador for lunch at one of the restaurants.  We had a lovely white wine, scallops, crab croquettes, Galician bread and I tried chestnuts with chocolate.  Delicious!



Arzua/Santiago de Compostela

What a glorious day walking from Melide to Arzua!  Galician weather is mercurial, changing by the moment.  So we had the worst and the best in one day; cold driving rain and warm intermittent sun.  Our first surprise was a church in Santa Maria with an altar from the 8th century and other relics from the 12th-15th centuries.  It blows my mind that these relics have been preserved for so long.  A devotee of the church was there to give us a rather quick overview of what we were seeing.  Then we hiked through the forest of eucalyptus and oak intertwined with farm land.  Wide, sweeping green meadows buffered by hand-built walls covered in lichen, moss, and succulent plants.  In what seemed to be an abandoned village, we found a lovely modern cafe for a cup of tea.  At another bar, we met a peregrino who lives in San Marcos, TX and another from Wisconsin.  Then down the road we met a woman from Chicago and another woman from Ireland.

At one point, we came upon a stand of refreshments operating on the honor system.  In the spirit of the Camino, someone had set this up for peregrinos.  We left 4 Euros and helped ourselves to walnuts, strawberries, and a banana.  I found myself quite touched by the gesture.

Once again, the hotel where we had reservations was on the other side of town!  We stayed at Casa Teodora as did several peregrinos we remembered along the way.

We made plans to take the bus to Lavacolla the following day, rest and spend the night then walk into Santiago the following day.    The next morning, I went to breakfast and made reservations for the night while E went to Correos (the post office) to send her extra stuff home.

We caught the bus to Lavacolla however the bus driver forgot to stop to let us off.  By the time we reminded him, we were in San Marcos.  So we ducked into a bar for lunch and decided to walk into Santiago instead of waiting until the next day.  This required some equipment readjustment given that we were carrying our packs and it was raining.    Monte de Gozo was blustery and cold.  The descent into Santiago uneventful.  I was surprised to see such a modern city since all I knew of Santiago was the plaza in front of the cathedral.  We stopped at a pulperia on the edge of town for wine that was barely drinkable; it was served in small bowls instead of glasses.  Then we stopped again for tea closer to the city center.  The Way was not well marked at this point so it was confusing.  Suddenly, the architecture around us was 12th century.  We descended through a short tunnel in which Celtic musicians played.  A young woman dressed in hiking clothes, knelt on the street with a cup in front of her.  Something about the scene moved me; the joyful music and the humble assurance of this young woman that she would be supported by others.  I cried as we made our way to the plaza.  Young students on a type of historical treasure hunt ran screaming ahead of us.  Locals were making their way home.  And so we arrive; no fanfare, no marching band, just a stunning plaza of history.

Much to our dismay, we had to walk further to the pilgrim office for the compostela.  There is a security guard at the gate to whom I had to show my credencial.  Another guard inside told me to wait for the next available clerk.  I filled out a form with some basic information and the clerk filled out the certificate and handed it to me.  I expected more questions and more evaluation.  We limped back to the parador on the plaza and checked in.  The rain really came down once we settled in.

12.3 km San Marcos to Santiago de Compostela


The following are my impressions of Spain.  Remember that this post is written by a highly sensitive, quiet, introverted woman.  Remember also that I have experienced Espana in hotels, restaurants, and bars that cater to peregrinos so my perceptions may not translate to other contexts.  That said, here goes:

Spanish identity and language varies widely across the provinces.

The Spanish strike me as passionate people; they tend to be loud, emphatic and talk over each other.  They use a lot of imperatives even if they are playing a card game.  There seems to be much more tolerance for noise than I am used to, from slamming doors to vocal decibels.

This country loves and cherishes family and, in the city, at least, their pets.  Being a dog lover, I had a hard time seeing dogs chained up in the rural areas.  Some rural dogs were working like the border collies herding sheep.

For the most part, our hosts have been patient and understanding about the language barrier but we have also encountered people who were impatient and dismissive when we could not make ourselves understood immediately.   Some Spanish were downright rude.

I would like to understand the Spanish perspective about the Camino; it seems to me that they do not question it’s importance at all but do what they can to support peregrinos nevertheless.  E observed a less friendly element of those who do not want foreigners here.

This is an outdoor culture.  Open windows, even in cold weather, are common.  Restaurants have outdoor seating that most people prefer.  People seem to walk fairly long distances to the store and to socialize.  On weekend evenings, especially in cities, people walk the promenade to socialize.  No one is in a hurry.  Time is relative.  Transportation is prompt and runs on time, thank goodness, or we would still be in Pamplona.

Breakfast is light and cold; tea or coffee, juice, bread or cake with butter and jam.   Lunch is just to tide you over until dinner which is quite late.  This was a problem for us when we arrived at a hostel at 1-3 PM and the kitchen was already closed.  We then had to wait until 7:30 or later to eat.  Snacks come in handy.

Vegetables are hard to come by although they grow everywhere.   A green salad is iceberg, maybe butter lettuce with tomatoes, onions, tuna, green olives, and vinegar and oil.   One morning at the parador, there was a warm tortilla (like a frittata) with carrots and asparagus.  I was ecstatic; usually it is just eggs and potatoes.

The Camino goes through parts of Spain that are quite are rural.  It is a way of life that I did not realize existed anymore; people farming, raising animals, buying their bread from the local panderia, and rarely leaving the small village nearby.  No running water, no heat other than a fire, living on very little.  Then there is modern urban Spain; hip, addicted to technology and wearing rather tight pants.  The weather report took on a new meaning for us with the hot Galician weather dude we waited for each morning.  And these two generations coexist though I am not sure how peacefully.

This dichotomy is also reflected in the landscape where there is an ancient, crumbling building from the 16th century next door to a brand new hacienda filled with modern amenities.  Sometimes the two buildings are joined.  Like the magnificent cathedrals built on the ruins of Roman temples, what seems original is actually reinvented.

The worst part of traveling in Spain, which is true of much of Europe as well, is that smoking is still quite popular.  Although smoking is not allowed in most public spaces, not everyone respects the idea of a no smoking area.  Smokers hover in the doorways of bars or restaurants half in and half out of the place.  There seems to be little or no concern of the impact of secondhand smoke, even on children.  In the larger cities, cigarette butts are everywhere.  Even though we requested non-smoking hotel rooms, there was inevitably someone sneaking a smoke in the stairwell or on another floor and circulating their smoke through the ventilation system.  And to our dismay, a non smoking room might mean that no one had smoked in the room recently.



Casa Cabana was blissfully quiet and dark.  We both slept well.  After desayuno, we discovered there was a taxi driver in the bar so he took us to Melide this morning.  The day emerged frigidly cold, blustery, and raining.  We got a room at the Pousada Chiquitin which I can tell is quite noisy already.  There is a bar and a restaurant ( I use that term loosely in this case) downstairs.

When we arrived this morning, there was an open market near our pousada so we braved the rain to explore.  Homemade cheese, all types of pork and sausage, vegetables (they do have them!) and fruit were laid out on tables.  A few vendors sold basic clothing like underwear and socks.  We explored a local leather store where the artisan makes handmade shoes.  Standing outside the leather store, we were amazed to see that it was snowing and raining at the same time.  We then ducked back to the hotel to warm ourselves with hot tea.

In the bar, the young woman who checked us in was playing with her son while her husband sat nearby.  Several regulars came by for a drink.  Then the football game began; what a ruckus!  I went upstairs for a nap while E read her book in the sitting area nearby.

13 km Melide to Arzua

Portomarin/Palas de Rei

The day we left Sarria was the only time we saw much of it.  Sarria has a pedestrian part of town that follows the Camino high on the hill – that is where most of the albergues, cafes, and shops are.  I read online that Sarria is the antique capitol of Galicia.  We tried to see the cathedrals but they were closed.  We also walked to the Monastery of Magdalena but it was also closed – that darn siesta!  From there, we took a taxi to Portomarin.  The road climbed with twists and turns through forests and farm land.  Galicia seems quite wild and stunningly verdant.  It reminds me of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.  Moss covered trees, rivers and lakes, overcast, and perpetually damp.

Portomarin is a charming town at the bend of a river; whether you approach by car or on foot, you must cross a bridge to get there.  We found a Pension called Portomenia and settled in.  We had a late lunch at the pension’s restaurant then explored the town.  It is obvious that the Camino is big business here; there are several souvenir shops and on the plaza is a statue of St. James pointing the Way.  We went to the Cathedral where a young woman sits in a heavy coat monitoring visitors. It was freezing inside.

It seems to me that a pilgrim could spent a good portion of the day arranging logistics; making reservations at the next place to stay, having bags transported, obtaining the necessary sellos, doing laundry, obtaining food, etc.  Supporting pilgrims is a huge business in this area.  By the time we finished exploring the town, it was 5 PM, the end of siesta.  We enjoyed the sun in a nearby park.  The sun has been scarce during this trip so we enjoy each moment of warmth.

We left Portomarin early this morning in a cold, steady rain.  The walk was peaceful and serene but obviously much more crowded.  We stopped in the first town, Gonzar, for  lunch but so did everyone else!  I like to listen to all the languages; French, German, Portugese.  We had made reservations in the next town, Castromeior, however E pulled a muscle in her back and we decided to take a taxi to Palas de Rei.  I had a difficult time explaining to the pension owner why I needed to take our packs and leave.  We are staying at the Hostel Cabana tonight; it has a rather American theme of the log cabin.  Shortly after arriving, we both got massages and are feeling much better.  Wine and a dinner of scallops in the shell and whole shrimp also helped.

Our plan is to take a taxi to Melide tomorrow then walk from there the next day.

8.7 km Portomarin to Castromeior


Our last night in Balorado, E was not feeling well so stayed at the Casa Rural while I went to dinner at the local albergue.  I sat with two intrepid travelers from Seattle.  They did a hike across the Swiss alps and this is their second time walking the Camino.  The gentleman explained that they just love to hike.  Later this year, they are walking the Silk Road from Istanbul into China.

Given the difficulty we have walking further than 10-12 km at a time, we decided to take the bus from Belorado to Burgos (3.28 euros).  Once there, we had a bite to eat and took a taxi to the new train station, Burgos Rosa de Lima.  There we boarded a train for Sarria (42 euros each).  The plan was to rest today and attempt to walk the last 100 km to Santiago and arrive by Friday, April 15th; we have reservations at the Parador that day.

We arrived in Sarria at 9 PM and walked to the first hotel we saw, a sea foam green Baroque style building across from the train station.  We threw around different ideas about getting to Santiago.  We are fairly certain that we cannot walk the entire 100 km between now and next Friday.  There are no buses between here and the small towns along the way, only to larger cities like Lugo or A Coruna.  The plan for now is to take a taxi to Portomarin and begin our walk, however far it is, from there.

This morning, I did a search on the question, “Is anyone refused a compostela?”  Until that moment, I did not realize that I was attached to obtaining this document.  Overachiever that I am, it makes sense.  But what I really value at this point is my credencial with it’s many sellos (stamps) from the places we have been.  The rule is that during the last 100 km into Santiago, the pilgrim obtains at least two stamps a day.  Other posts say that if you have already walked much of the camino, only one stamp a day is required.  So we are confused.  Will we make the effort to follow the “rule” and not receive the compostela?  Is it really important?  Most pilgrims say the journey is the most important and I would agree with that.  I do not feel that I have earned the compostela but will I come back and complete the parts that I could not walk?

With Paul’s help, we have found another flight home through Lisbon.  E is ecstatic to be going to Portugal to see their linens and textiles.   The flight leaves on April 21st which gives us several days in Lisbon.

In the last two days, we have crossed two more autonomous provinces in Spain – Leon y Castillo and we are now in Galicia.  Each has a distinct identity and dialect.  The Spanish I have learned until now seems useless in Galicia.


Yesterday, we did well walking the 10 km from Santa Domingo de Cadaza to Redecilla del Camino. Today was just a little further but by the time we reached the albergue at the edge of Belorado, we were limping yet again.  Our packs and our reservations for the night are at a hotel on the other side of town.  So we are resting for that trek, however brief.  The ice bag that we are sharing has left a muddy puddle under the table.  At first, I am overly warm and want something cold to drink.  Within an hour, I am shivering in my own sweat.

Much to our surprise,  reception and the bar (often the same thing) were completely dark when we descending from our room in Redecellia at 7 AM.  We had to call the hostess to check out of the hotel. As we greeted the sun, we went to the next town, Castildelgado, for breakfast at the ‘chocolate hostel.’  The next town of Viloria de Rioja was completely deserted yet we badly needed a bathroom.  The area is agricultural with few bushes or trees for discreet outdoor relief.

I was experiencing an upset stomach and hoped not to resort to squatting in a field.  I barely made it to the restaurant at Quintanilla del Monte.  I went to the bar and ordered a bottled water.  The proprietor insisted that we remove our small backpacks at the front door.  I rushed to the bathroom.  When I emerged, he asked me for 50 cents and was rather rude about it.  I told him that I was going to buy something but he did not seem to care.  As best I can tell, he charged me for the water and for the bathroom.   We plan to post a warning to pilgrims about this.

We managed to walk across Belarado to the Hotel Belarado.  Here is another warning for pilgrims – it is a creepy dump!  We were in the room long enough for me to take a bath and for E to observe how many slamming doors were heard.  It is right on the highway with lots of traffic noise.  So we switched to the Casa Rural Verdeancho which meant we had to walk back across town.  We are steps from the cathedral and the castle ruins.

Given the difficult walking day we have had, we discussed taking a bus to Burgos.

12.9 km Redecilla del Camino to Belorado


Santa Domino de Calzada

In this sleepy little town, there are two paradors; one on the Plaza de San Francisco and another by the cathedral.  I had made a reservation for one but we ended up at the other.  I am in love with paradors after this experience!  These amazing hotels are actually ancient yet seriously updated buildings.  The parador where we stayed was once a 12th century hospital for pilgrims.  The thick stone walls remind me of what this place once was.  Now it is decorated with Spanish antiques and art.  We arrived in the morning and took the opportunity to update the blog.  Our room had radiant heating in the floor which means we could wash clothes and lay them on the floor to dry!  Seriously, E tried that with a few leftover items after we took a trip to the lavaria (launderette) near the albergue.  While we washed clothes (3 euros, soap provided), we walked around the shops and cafes.  Late lunch was chicken (yay!) at a small bar.  We decided to snack for dinner.  At a local grocery store, we picked up wine, cheese and crackers.   It was a rainy, cold day and after dark, it was torrential.  The rain was a welcome lullaby.

The parador where we stayed is a bed and breakfast but does not have a bar.  The dining room had arched, peach colored ceilings like a sherbet cathedral.  There was a breakfast buffet of hot tortillas (the egg and potato crustless quiche of sorts) and other meats including jambon, chorizo, and blood sausage, a collection of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, breads, cafe con leche and tea.  Wine is also available if you are so inclined. There were few other patrons at breakfast.  Classical music played over the sound system.  We did not want to leave!  I felt under dressed in my hiking gear among the china, silver, and starched napkins.  Finally, at 9:30 or 10:00, we bundled up against the cold, cloudy day and set out for Redecilla del Camino after sending our packs ahead.  We stopped in Gran~on for about a hour; the local bar there plays great blues music!  There were several other pilgrims from Germany and France when we stopped.

We have a small room at the Hotel Redecilla del Camino just across from the cathedral.   There is something special about the baptismal font in the cathedral and we arrived just in time for the caretaker to let us in before siesta.  I cannot believe the ornate decor in this cathedral and in such a small town!  After much back and forth with the hosts, we finally have electricity and hot water in the room.

We came up with a plan to complete the Camino at a pace that suits us.  We will walk to Burgos, barring any injuries, and take a bus or train from Burgos to Sarria where we will walk the final 100 km to Santiago.  Then we will take a train to Bilbao, see the Guggenheim, and fly home from there.  Paul is working on flights as we speak.

I just bought a bottle of wine from the bar downstairs and we are relaxing in the room.

I feel that I have hit my stride with the Camino.  Once I start walking, there are moments of pure meditation between my breathing and the clicking of my walking stick.  We comfortably did 11-12 km today even with some inclines.  I am not hurting but I am quite tired.  Tomorrow, we will attempt 13 km to Balorado.

11.1 km Santa Domingo de Cadaza to Recilla de Camino