It’s been a month since Madrid

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Dr Seuss

One month ago today I left Madrid. It seems as though the time since my Camino has been flying by at light speed. Maybe because I am back at work, maybe because I over scheduled my summer, maybe because time on the Camino was so deliciously slow. I am assuming it is the later of the three. While walking on the Camino, all of my experiences were about the “here and now.” It was about being in the present and soaking up the experiences and the people as they were happening. It was a very Gestalt way of being for me. But alas, I am now home again, faced with daily “to do” lists and I have been told by a few people that they felt I needed to end my blog with my time in Madrid and getting on the plane to head home. So here it is, my final post. (Totally not a Gestalt thing to cave in to others’ “shoulds”, I know.)

After our wonderful day in Finisterre, we caught the bus at 9:00am the next morning back to Santiago de Compestella. The scenery along the coast was absolutely breathtaking. However, due to severe motion sickness brought on by the winding curves of the coastline, my eyes were primarily fixated on the center of the road in an attempt to not vomit on the man beside me. After about 3 1/2 hours of watching the Spanish coastline turn into Spanish countryside via my peripheral vision, we pulled into the Santiago bus station. With our backpacks on, we made our way back towards the Cathedral to see if we could run into any of our Camino buddies one last time. Sadly, in the three hours we were there, we didn’t run into any familiar faces. With backpacks on again, we made our way to the other side of town to catch our train to Madrid. The ride to Madrid was 5 hours and relatively uneventful. We made our way through the train station and grabbed a cab to take us to the hostel we had previously reserved. It was a long day of bus and train travel.

The next morning we slept in and then went out in search of breakfast. The shops were just starting to open, so after eating we walked along the street browsing through shops and being amazed at the number of people and all the traffic around us. The traffic was astounding, it was like being in Los Angeles! Where we were at, the roads going in opposite directions were separated in the middle by beautiful parks and gardens. While walking through these areas you could still see and hear the traffic on either side of you, but it was far more relaxing than just walking beside traffic. We walked past museums, restaurants, artists, and street performers. Madrid is a beautiful city with fantastic architecture. While out walking we made our way to the Prado Museum. What a nice collection of 12th through early 19th century European art they have. We saw a very diverse assortment of works by Goya, Velasquez, El Greco and many others. The Prado is the biggest art museum I have ever been to and would highly recommend a visit to anybody traveling to Madrid. After exploring the museum and eating lunch in their cafeteria, we went back to relax and plan our afternoon.

In the afternoon we made our way to the Palacio de Cibeles, a historic postal office and totally amazing building. This was one of the most ornate buildings we saw in Madrid. At the top they have an outdoor observation deck where you can walk all the way around the building. There is nothing like getting a bird’s eye view of Madrid while feeling the wind blow through your hair. After taking in the gorgeous views from the top, we went down a few floors to a patio bar that overlooked the front of the building and the plaza. We sat up there drinking wine, watching the traffic go by, and enjoying the warm breeze. It was very romantic, too bad our husbands were thousands of miles away, they defiantly would have been getting lucky that night! Since we didn’t have our husbands to sweep us off our feet, we went off to explore a bit more before heading back to the room for an early night.

The next morning we got up early, showered, packed, and caught the bus to the airport. We ate breakfast at the airport after checking in then went to wait for our flight. Our flight left on time and after watching three in flight movies and a few tv shows, we were back on American soil.

I have thought about Spain every day since coming home. Walking the Camino was the best vacation I have ever taken in my entire life. I smile when I think about it and when I look back through my photos. The people, the scenery, the experience, I can’t get it out of my brain. Instead of having a song stuck in my head, I have a vacation playing over and over again in my brain! How lucky am I! I can’t wait to go back and do it all again. I don’t know when I will be able to go again, maybe when I retire, but I definitely want to go back.

Some of the people I finished the Camino with were sad when their Camino came to an end. I was worried that I might be sad too; however, my memories have kept me happy and I am still smiling every time I think about it. I think I was very blessed to make it all the way across Spain without any health or physical ailments and to have all of the wonderful experiences I had. I feel very fortunate for my wonderful vacation.

Thanks for reading my blog and all the supportive posts!

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Pilgrim’s Mass and Finisterre

Yesterday was our first whole day of not walking since finishing the Camino. As we got dressed and went down to breakfast, our backpacks sat dejected and untouched in the corner. A sad, sad, thing to see my backpack waiting to go, but not having any place to go.

We spent the day in Santiago eating, shopping, going to mass, eating, shopping, and then eating some more. Oh, and drinking wine. The shopping in Santiago is very touristy and all related to the Camino. Not great for gift giving unless somebody wants something related to the Camino. The food was really good. We found a couple of tapas bars and ate like royalty for under 15 euro each including wine. We never had a bad meal in Santiago.

The Pilgrim’s mass on Sunday was beautiful. The cathedral is enormous and there was only standing room available for us. There was easily over a thousand people at mass today. The service included several different priests, nuns, and guests giving varying parts of the sermon in different languages. We heard Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, and even a little German. The highlight of the service for us was that one of our Camino friends was helping to deliver the sermon. We have spent the last couple of weeks walking on and off with a group of seminary students and one of them was up with the priests helping with the service. It was so much fun to see him up there. He later told us that it was a very moving experience for him since he is studying to be a Catholic priest.

Today we rode the bus to the quaint little fishing town of Finisterre. Back in Medieval times the Europeans believed that it was the edge of the world. It is also the place where St. Jame’s (one of Jesus’ original apostles) body was said to have come ashore (there are many tales of how) and was then transported to the Cathedral in Santiago where it is now believed to be entombed.

Finisterre is a cute little place to visit. It has a couple of little touristy type shops and an entire street of places to eat overlooking the little harbor. The wine flows freely here and we split a bottle at lunch and again at dinner! It was so nice to relax by the ocean, drink our wine, people watch, and eat fantastic food. In the early evening we made our way up to the lighthouse which is where pilgrims used to burn their ragged, stinky Camino attire. You aren’t allowed to burn stuff there anymore, but I wanted a picture of my dying boots at the end of the world. I also wanted a picture of the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean since it sets over the Pacific back home. I got the picture of my boots; however, the sunset wasn’t to be. It was cloudy and overcast which really added to the ambiance but meant there was no sunset to be seen. All in all, a fun time at the edge of the world.

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Santiago at last!

Wow, what a fun day! We started out the day just six miles from Santiago but were required to get two sellos (stamps in our credential from local businesses) to prove that we walked into town. Our first stop of course was at a bar for our daily ritual of café con leche. After that we walked about three miles through a quiet residential area until we came to a small church and gigantic sculpture dedicated to pilgrims. The sculpture was a great photo opportunity and the cute little church offered one last place for quiet reflection and candles to light for loved ones, not to mention a sello for my credential.

After looking around a bit we continued down the road and into Santiago. Santiago is a big, bustling, city with lots of really fast drivers. We cautiously made our way through town passing schools, businesses, and lots of busy intersections. As we turned down the street that would eventually lead to the cathedral, we discovered that there was a festival taking place. We had been told that there were three different festivals in town this weekend and weren’t quite sure which one we had stumbled onto. At any rate, it was fun to walk through all the festivities, but difficult to navigate the crowds with our backpacks.

At the end of the festival area we could hear bagpipes playing and see the top of the cathedral. We followed the bagpipe music through a short tunnel and found ourselves in an enormous and very lively square in front of the biggest cathedral I have ever seen. It is magnificent.

I just stood and looked at it for a few minutes. It was amazing to see such a beautiful building; it was amazing to know that we walked across Spain and our journey was concluding; it was amazing to see so many people standing in one place, all on such a beautifully perfect day. It felt extraordinary.

The pilgrim’s mass for pilgrims that arrived yesterday was about to start and there were what seemed like thousands of people in the square. There were pilgrims, tourists, vendors, artists, musicians, and locals everywhere. It was like making your way through the crowds and vendors at Disneyland, crowded yet exciting and fun all at the same time.

After digesting the enormity of everything going on, I took some photos, hugged some fellow pilgrims, then went off with Terry to find the pilgrims office. We had to wait in line about 30 minutes before being handed our compestellas. We were told that yesterday over 1,200 pilgrims had completed their Camino. Tomorrow we will find out how many finished with us today. We will attend tomorrow’s pilgrim’s mass at noon.

We spent the remainder of the day congratulating our friends who also finished today, eating tapas, drinking wine, and enjoying all of the festivities. What a wonderful way to end a very long walk. Oh, and in case you are wondering… I never got one blister or suffered any other ailments. The tape I patched my boots with weeks ago worked like a charm. I feel great. And yes, Just like my favorite rides at Disneyland, I would go back and do it all again tomorrow if I could!

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A great day on the Camino

Today was just splendid! The weather was beautiful, the scenery was fantastic, and we ran into many of our favorite people!

When we started out there was a little bit of mist. Not enough to obscure the scenery, but the perfect amount to give the day a special feeling. The terrain was mostly flat and soft today as it made its way through large forests of eucalyptus trees. Their scent created a very clean, fresh smell in the air. There was a light breeze blowing through the trees all day rustling their leaves and keeping us cool.

The atmosphere is becoming more party like. People are singing, laughing, and obviously excited to be so close to Santiago. It is a very fun environment. I met a man today traveling from Sarria with his 8 year old grandson. The boy was asking him all sorts of questions about the plants and animals we passed. Whenever we passed a big map the grandfather would take the time to show the boy where they were, where they had come from, and where they were going. You could just see the love and respect they had for each other in the way they talked. I could have eavesdropped on their conversation all day but thought it might be rude. After a brief conversation with the grandfather I wished them Buen Camino and headed on my way.

When we started out the day, we were planning on walking 12 miles today and 12 more miles into Santiago tomorrow. After we had met our 12 mile goal, Terry’s feet were still good and it was early in the day so we stopped at an information center to get the lay of the land. We asked about continuing on and were told of a very nice pensión only 6 miles further down the road. The nice man made a reservation for us, we walked those 6 miles, and are now enjoying vino tinto with fresh cheesecake made from local cheese. Since we walked 18 miles today, we only have six more tomorrow before finding ourselves in Santiago! I can’t decide if I am excited to be in Santiago or remorseful that my Camino is ending. Either way it will be good to see my family again.

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Arzua and eating pulpo

Another foggy morning along the Camino this morning. The mist was thick so it was hard to see the scenery. There were a number of pilgrims who left the albergue today before the sun came up. We ran into one of them later and he said that they had gotten lost because they couldn’t see the yellow arrows through the misty darkness.

In the albergues it is difficult to sleep through the early risers who are putting away their sleeping bags, repacking their backpacks, and getting ready for their day. Because there is often little space between the bunks, Terry and I usually wait them out. Most of the time they have left the albergue by 6:30 and opened up precious floor space for us to start taking care of our gear.

The views along the way today included more farms and some smaller forested areas. We only had one big hill to speak of which was nice because we are getting tired. I am assuming it is the combination of walking for a month, not sleeping in my own bed, and a distinct lack of vegetables combined with wine or beer every night. The meals here don’t usually include vegetables, although you can usually get a salad with dinner if you order an entire three course Pilgrim’s meal. However, fruit is readily available and wonderfully fresh around here. I often purchase fruit from vendors along the roadside or from local grocery stores.

Tonight for dinner we decided that we were ready to try the famous local dish of pulpo (octopus). So we went to a cute little pulporia not far from our albergue and placed our order. The purple pulpo arrive a few minutes later. Broiled in olive oil, dusted with salt, and tentacles still attached. Hmmm, tentacles I thought to myself. We looked around and saw the locals laughing, drinking their wine, and spearing the tentacle laden chucks of pulpo with toothpicks before happily putting them into their mouths. I looked for the piece with the fewest tentacles and speared it with a toothpick. The taste of the pulpo is actually very good, the never ending chewing of the rubbery tentacles was hard to get past. Since it tasted good I ate a few more pieces, taking care to position the tentacles so that they could just slide on down. Soon all that was left on our plate were pieces with lots of tentacles. No sliding those babies down. When our waitress came by Terry asked for forks and knives. The waitress then showed us the toothpicks customarily used for eating pulpo. Terry then explained that we wanted to cut off the skin and tentacles of our pulpo. The waitress looked a bit confused but happily complied with our request. The meat of the pulpo is fantastic. It is very similar in taste and texture to broiled scallops. I highly recommend it, with the skin and tentacles removed.

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Casanova

Another beautiful day in Galicia. The temperature was cool enough that I could wear my long sleeve sun shirt all day. The trail was mostly shaded, but the sunny spots were cooled with a nice breeze.

We walked past more farms and yielded more road right of ways to cows. At one point there was an obviously curious cow staring me down and walking towards where I was standing instead of following the rest of the herd. The man herding them notice the cow leaving the herd and yelled at the cow and banged his big stick on the ground. While I didn’t understand what the man said, the cow apparently did and got back on sync with the rest of the cows. You know your Spanish is lacking when cows understand more than you.

We walked about 13 miles today which is all we need to do each day to reach Santiago on Saturday. It is our plan to check in with the Pilgrim’s office on Saturday and then attend the Pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral on Sunday. Hard to believe we are only three days from Santiago!

We are staying in a tiny place called Casanova. The albergue is an old, repurposed school house. There are only 20 beds between two tiny rooms here. There is no food, no internet, no anything here other than beds. So after showering and washing our laundry we walked back the way we had come about a mile or so to a different albergue that had beer, wine, and bocadillos. That albergue filled its last bed at noon today, but was happy to feed us. The albergue that we are staying at was full by 1:30pm and the word from pilgrims still walking by is that all of the albergues in the big town of Palas del Rei were full too. There just aren’t enough beds for all the pilgrims in this part of the Camino.

Luckily we only need to walk 12/13 miles a day from here on and we will be staying in bigger towns. If the albergues are all full, the bigger towns usually have hotels for those willing to pay for them. If it comes down to paying for a hotel or sleeping in the cold with the cows, I am more than willing to lay down a few more Euros to avoid sleeping with the curious bovines.

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The town with more cows than people

We walked about 16 miles today over rolling hills and through valleys. Most of our walk today was through farm country. We had to yield the right of way to small herds of cattle being moved from one pasture to another on more than one occasion.

We passed through areas of pine trees that smelled so nice and reminded me of Flagstaff. There were also areas with wild fennel growing on the side of the road and that scent reminded me of walking on Catalina Island with my husband. Funny how certain scents can trigger memories of other places and times.

The trail today was crowded and sometimes dangerous. It feels like the number of pilgrims walking just tripled over night since we passed Sarria. Most of the new pilgrims are walking in groups which often take up the width of the trail in lots of places. Today a bicycle riding pilgrim wrecked his bike avoiding a group of pilgrims. He hit his back on a rock and said he couldn’t move his legs, an ambulance was called. Later a bicyclist rode past a group of older pilgrims and came so close to one of the women that she fell down and got really bad road rash on one of her legs and arms. Before there was always room for the bicyclists and the walkers, now the trails are just plain crowded. It is amazing how many pilgrims there are now compared to when we started in France!

Tonight we are staying in a private room inside an albergue in a town called Gonzar. Gonzar’s residents are primarily of the bovine species. As I write this post, there are cows having a mooing dispute outside of my window. Hopefully they will work things out before I am ready for bed. As for beds, there are only a total of 36 beds for pilgrims in this town. When Terry and I arrived around 2:00pm, the municipal albergue was already full and this albergue was full less than an hour after our arrival.

A group of four people that included a man we have traveled on and off with in the past arrived here well after 4:00pm. Since there were no beds left, they were told they could have extra mattresses but had to sleep outside. It still gets very cold here at night and one of the four had no sleeping bag or blankets! Our friend asked if we could lend them our sleeping bags, which of course we did because our private room includes a bed with sheets and blankets. Terry was a little concerned about what the mixed gender group might be doing in our sleeping bags over night besides sleeping. I assured her that it was far too cold here at night for outdoor naked gymnastics.

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Barbadelo

Perfect weather for hiking today. The morning started out around 50 degrees and by mid day it was still only in the mid 70’s with a slight breeze. The trail today had a lot of ups and downs, but nothing as steep as yesterday. Sometimes we were along the side of the road and sometimes the path went out into the woods.

We were moving quickly today because Terry wanted to make sure her second set of clothes arrived safely. We arrived in Sarria just after noon. Her clothes were at the specified albergue as promised. She is one again the proud owner of two pair of underwear, a very important thing here on the Camino.

My current pilgrim’s credential is almost full so we began the hunt for another one. Many people start their Camino here in Sarria so we first went to the Pilgrim’s Office. They were closed for the day. Next we went to a municipal albergue and were told that we need to go the Monastery but that they close at 1:00pm and don’t reopen until 4:30pm. We were hoping to get a few more miles under our belts today so we hurried across town to the monastery and arrived just before siesta. My new credential in hand, we headed out of Sarria.

Yesterday and today the trails have been getting very crowded. Since Sarria is the minimum distance people can begin their Camino from and still acquire a compestella, lots of people start from here and OCebreiro. The new comers are easy to spot. They have clothes that aren’t dingy from a month of consecutive wear and hand washing in cold water. Their hair lacks that fuzzy, fly away look that comes from using a universal camping soap as shampoo for a month. And they talk amongst themselves all full of excitement about the journey they are embarking on. I am excited for them. I remember my first few days and think of all the great experiences awaiting them. It is fun to watch them as they get started.

We ran into a Spanish woman just starting her Camino from Sarria this afternoon. She was traveling alone and had lost her way at the first turn out of Sarria. Terry and I found her all confused and on her cell phone trying to figure out which way to go. We assured her of the path and went on our way as she finished her phone call. Later I was stopped on a very thin, old, wooden bridge to take a picture of a nearby stone bridge when she decided to try and cross the rickety old bridge with me still on it. I quickly got off, let her pass, and then went back on to take the photo. I think she was still unsure of her way because she would stop at every fork in the path and wait for me. Terry and I stopped at the next town for the evening and she made a point of asking me if we were stopping. When I told her yes, she looked a bit nervous but said she was moving forward. I wished her Buen Camino. I’m sure we will run into her tomorrow.

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Triacastela

Another cool, crisp morning on the Camino. We started out with clear but cold weather but could see that the top of the mountains were engulfed in clouds. We were on our way up to OCebreiro, the highest point on the Camino. It was a pretty steep climb of about three miles but we made it to the town of OCebreiro in about an hour and a half. We stopped a couple of times to take photos but it was really too cold and windy for stopping too long.

OCebeiro was a very cute little town. Very medieval in appearance and there was even a store playing Celtic music that made its way to the center of town. We walked through a couple of small stores where one of the shopkeepers gave us each a small pin for our backpacks in the shape of a shell. It was very nice of him. We also ran into a young girl traveling with a college history class that we had met a few days previous. She was having problems with her feet and was feeling disappointed at needing to have her backpack transported so she could continue walking. She had spotted a four leaf clover while walking and gave it to me for good luck. I thanked her and put it between two pages in the notebook I am carrying.

The path down off the mountain was steep and rocky but eventually led to a place where the fog lifted and the sun could once again be seen. A welcome relief from the cold, fog, and wind. We made our way into the town of Triacastela. We were able to find a private room here for only 30 Euros, 15 each! The albergues here were charging 10 Euro a bed so we were happy.

Terry’s happiness soon abated as she realized she had forgotten her dirty clothes back at the hippie albergue in La Faba. She only had two sets of clothing, so losing a set was a big problem. We contemplated taking a taxi back to grab them when the lady we rented a room from suggested we call a baggage transport company to pick it up and deliver it in Sarria where we plan to end up tomorrow. Well, several phone calls and 14 euros later, we had found her laundry, arranged for transport, and were ready to head out for dinner. Terry is very relieved to know that she doesn’t have to finish the Camino with only the clothing on her back. Disaster averted!

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La Faba and my first squating toilet

Last night we stayed in a very comfortable little hostel in a private room. The beds were so comfortable and the room was so quiet that we slept until 7:00am. I didn’t realize how poorly I was sleeping in the albergues until today. By the time we dressed and packed up our gear it was almost 8am. We were through the town and back on the Camino by 8:30am.

The better part of the day was spent walking uphill along a highway. There was a barrier between where the cars drive and where the pilgrims walk. After my near miss with the European equivalent of a semi the other day I was grateful for the cement barrier between myself and the traffic! The road ran beside a stream the entire way, much like the drive through Oak Creek Canyon back home. There were very few yellow arrows to follow today since we were walking along a highway and through a new town every three miles or so. We pretty much just followed the same road signs as the cars.

After a few hours there were some yellow arrows pointing down a trail that left the roadway and entered the woods. Now this was my kind of hiking. Shade trees, dirt path, and a babbling brook, it was very peaceful. It was a daydream of a hike, but then I was shaken from my daydream as the uphill walk became a strenuous hike. The trail became very steep and rocky quite quickly. It wasn’t totally unexpected as we are on our way up to O Cebreiro, the highest point along the Camino. So up I trudged through some of the most beautiful scenery yet. I know I say that almost every day, but truly, each day just seems to be competing with the day before for the most beautiful views. The countryside here in Spain is magnificent.

After walking up hill for what seemed like a very long time, I saw the path to La Faba, which was where Terry and I had agreed to meet. Terry wasn’t here yet so I stopped in at the nearby bar to have a well deserved beer and watch the road for Terry. A few minutes later she arrived and joined me for a beer. After our beers we went to the closest albergue, it had a very New Age feel to it.

Of the people relaxing in front of the building, the woman with the least colorful hair showed us where our beds where. After the woman left, Terry and I just started laughing. It is like a tree house run by hippies. We have to climb up a ladder to reach the loft where our mattresses are. The loft is suspended by chains hanging from the ceiling. The mattresses are covered with psychedelic tie dyed fabric and there is a statue of what looks to be an Egyptian pharaoh on a shelf in the corner. The sleeping arrangements didn’t phase us, we view ourselves as open and accepting of alternative ways of living. Besides, up another ladder the woman had assured us there was a bathroom and a shower. All seemed right in this funky little hippie place.

Terry was the first to climb the ladder for a shower. Upon looking around, she looked back down at me with a very confused look on her face. I asked if everything was OK, but before she answered, another gal sharing our room said that it was a squatting toilet that also acted as a drain for the shower. How ingenious! No need for two drains or a bulky porcelain bowl. Just slant the floor so the water from showering runs down into the toilet hole in the floor. Now in case you want to utilize this little gem without turning on the shower, there is a bucket of water to the left for “flushing” stuff down. Of course no paper products can be “flushed” so there is a garbage pail to the right for used toilet paper.

I cut myself off from liquids around 7:00pm. The thought of climbing down from my loft, climbing up to the bathroom loft, flushing with a pail of water, climbing back down the bathroom loft, and then finally back up to my loft in the middle of the night just sounds like disaster waiting to happen. Especially for this accident prone chica!

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