Archive for October, 2017

Day off: Ponferrada

 October 17, 2017

Today I made a friend. Her name is Osita (Little Bear)

Finally it rained and the fires are almost smothered. People lost their lives, homes and businesses. I hope they find justice.

We did our laundry today as we do on the mornings of days off. Instead of being entertained by the clothes spinning I went shopping at a pharmacy and market. I think we spend more on creams at the pharmacy than we do on wine.  It is nice to have clothes that are clean and fluffy. We hand wash in between but it’s just not the same.

We spent the day exploring more of this interesting town full of history. Found an ice cream shop and later had a coffee at a café across from our hotel. A man came in with a large pack on his back and his little dog followed. He spoke with the two men that are working the bar. He took his pack outside and told his dog to stay. The little guy waited by the open door for his friend. We were told that he is homeless and comes by some days to see if he can get a coffee and bite to eat. He was happy and conversed with the two men. His little dog waited. As we left I went up to the man and gave him some euros. Told him they were for him to get something for his little dog. He thanked me.

There is a bookstore in the plaza near our hotel. We went in and I was greeted by a little ball of brown fur. Osita is a Pomeranian and so playful. I scratched her and played with her (I miss my dogs so much). We spoke with the lady for a long time about books and the difference between the Spanish language in Spain and in Central and South America. She felt that the Spanish language in the Americas was more colorful. We bought a book of poetry, a play of two pilgrims that don’t know they are spirits, and a book written in the 1800’s about areas that we are walking thru.

We ended the day at a wine, cheese and dinner tasting. The wine was wonderful, the cheese divine, and the dinner wonderful. It started with groups of people who were friends and not open to the group as a whole. After a glass or two we were all good friends and my husband and I had interesting conversations with three men that we were sitting near. I think they had underestimated us and they were surprised that I spoke Spanish and we know a lot about Old World wines. I told the man, Nacho, next to me that of all the wines that I have tasted from Europe, Spanish wine is my favorite. We ended the night with the biggest Chupito that I have ever been served. A Chupito is a liquer that is offered at the end of a meal. There are about 6 or 7 different flavors. My favorite is the herb one. That is what they offered us but it had been heated or as they say queimada (burned) with coffee grains (there were 4 floating in the drink). Usually they are served in a small chilled glass, this was a large whiskey glass. It was really good and a fine way to end the night. I hit the bed at 12:30 a.m. We had to get up at 6:00 a.m.

El Camino helps bring people together.

Mile 342.9: Villafranca del Bierzo

 October 18, 2017

We started El Camino from Camponaraya where the vineyards begin.

It was a beautiful walk thru small villages and wine country. The smell of wine was in the air and we passed both the bodega and the vineyard of the wines that we drank the night before: Luna Beberide.

At one point I thought it was raining but no drops hit the ground. It was the sound of the electricity running through the wires above…rather disconcerting.

Then we turned a bend and there was Villafranca del Bierzo a beautiful jewel of a town.

El Camino brings us pleasure.

Day off: Villafranca del Bierzo

October 19, 2017

We slept in…something rare and wonderful.

Villafranca del Bierzo is a beautiful little town that is settled in a valley where two rivers converge. The streets are hilly; some are cobblestone; the buildings too are made of stone. There is much to discover here. We found a street called Sucubo (succubus) were an artist has added interesting tiles on the wall…his studio around the corner.

As the pilgrims approach this lovely town they pass the Iglesia de Santiago were there is a Puerta del Camino or Puerta del Perdón (Door of El Camino or Door of Pardon) where a pilgrim who is unable to walk to Compostela because of illness or injury can walk thru this door that is opened only in the Holy Years of Compostela.

 We ended our day in mass at the Colegiata de Santa María. Mass was held in the center of the church where you entered thru a small door. It was a good mass and the priest, Padre Angel, was the most down to earth priest I have ever met. He feels he is more a convert than a priest for he lived a difficult life before he went into priesthood. Now, as one of his students told a visiting priest; he is a priest in the church, a friend out of church, and a strict teacher at the school were he works. (I get the feeling that his students love him). He said the pilgrim’s prayer and gave us advice to buy our water as we walk through Galicia instead of using the tap. The fires have damaged much there and the water may not be as safe as it was before; eat dried fruit; and he told the ladies to eat as much chocolate as we like for we loose weight on El Camino so eating chocolate is not a weight issue right now…take advantage of it!

As the other pilgrims left, my husband and I spoke with Padre Angel. He loved to talk. He told us that money is nothing; but for a couple to walk El Camino together was a precious experience to share worth more than any material value.

El Camino gives us wisdom.

Mile 352.7: Ambasmestas near La Portela de Valcarce

 October 20, 2017

As I crossed the stone and cobbled bridge…the same one that we had crossed for two nights for dinner…I felt the weight and drag of my pack.

We left Villafranca del Bierzo, a jewel were two rivers (rios) come together. El Camino goes along the Rio Valcarce by a road that curves through mountain valleys. We have three choices to take for El Camino on this leg, the one we took that is fairly level or one to the left and one to the right of us. Both of these take the pilgrim up, up, up and down, down, down through the mountains. I’ll take a level road when I can.

The air is cool, the trees are changing color, and the clouds were low for most of the day but no rain. We passed through villages where people were gathering hazel nuts or making wine in their bodegas. Cats and dogs greeted us. I love this area: mountains and forests…fresh air and the sound of water…bird song and the bells on the cows’ neck. I hear it now as I type this on the balcony outside our room with pilgrim’s clothes drying and airing out around me. I am happy. I enjoyed a local beer with my husband. It was smooth and creamy. We walked the length of the town and enjoyed its peace.

Ambasmestas is a small hamlet…one main road…with a highway above it where the sound of traffic is hardly heard. It is a peaceful town that a man we talked to here told us there is no stress in life. Someday my husband and I would like to live in a town like this. It is almost 7:00 p.m. and people are coming out to enjoy the day.

A bus arrives and 21 pilgrims come out. They will be staying at our hotel. Dinner is animated with the pilgrims from the bus sitting at one large table. Another table has a lone pilgrim and the third my husband and I. The bus pilgrims are from various Latin American countries and they are thrilled and one emotional about the opportunity to walk some of El Camino.

 On El Camino we choose our path.

Mile 360.7: O Cebreiro

October 21, 2017

 Today we walked through forests where the Duendes (elves) live.

Breakfast was full so my husband and I invited the other pilgrim to sit with us. He is from Luxemburg and we had a good time getting to know him. The pilgrims on the bus left before us but we still made it to the next town before them. They walked ahead of us and the distance grew as we took photos of a castle on a hill and spoke with a man who was grooming his dog. He was so sweet and told us that El Camino is life; the same thing that Padre Angel told us. He takes care of the street cats, 12 right now, and showed us the stack of bags of cat food he has. I told him that when I lived in Costa Rica I did the same. I called them the roof cats because when I called them they made a rumbling sound as they ran across the roofs of the houses to mine. He wished us well and gave us a hug.

We walked on a winding country road…up, up, up…we had 600 meters to climb in 8 miles. The guidebooks say that this is the worst stretch of El Camino. It isn’t.  It’s beautiful.

The first day of our trek to Orisson was bad because our bodies were not use to a 600 meter climb in 5 miles, Zubiri was bad because of the sharp rocks crossing the path, and Molinaseca was bad because of the steep trail full of sharp and pointy rocks. Zubiri and Molinaseca were trails that went down. Climbing down is always more difficult than climbing up. Gravity pulls at you, your feet and body get more of a beating.

Today we walked up the asphalt on a winding country road until it split: bikes continued on the road, walkers turned to the left down a dirt trail that took us into the forest. Down? We lost some altitude before the trail began to go up. It was rocky but the rocks formed a natural stairs and the dirt was soft and damp. This was a true mountain trail, one that I know well. It was pleasant to go up. Not once did I have any problems with my feet…they were happy.

We crossed through several small villages and had a pleasant meal at a vegetarian restaurant. We saw cattle and sheep and dogs and cats. We encountered two traffic jams when the cows were let out to pasture. We stepped aside to let them pass but both times a few cows decided that we were more interesting. They have such sharp and pointy horns.

The view became more beautiful as we climbed higher and higher. Near the end a man from Denmark, Erik, walked with us. He has walked several of the routes of El Camino, two this year, and plans to go home and buy a small boat, fix it up through winter and sail from island to island and hike next year in his home country.  His life is hiking. Together we crossed from León to Galicia. He was a pleasant companion and I hope we see him again.

O Cebreiro is more a tourist center than a village. Here they have samples of the typical round houses called Palloza and the church is where Padre Elias Valiña Sampedro is buried who spent his life restoring El Camino.   He is the one who came up with the idea to use yellow arrows to show pilgrims the way. (So much for what a pilgrim told me in the beginning about Franco)

We had a pleasant mass and the priest had a pleasant voice. He had people read passages in their native language: English, Spanish (my husband had the honors), and German.

The night is cold, windy and chilly. Tomorrow we descend.

El Camino es la vida.

Critters Continued:  Fuzzy caterpillar; colorful worm; a lot of bright green lizards running in and out of cracks in the sidewalk; a single big, black ant; a black beetle; a copper beetle with red legs; a black slug (haven’t seen these since the Pyrenees (See October 20 pictures above)); another big, black ant; another black slug enjoying something a cow dropped behind; a snail.


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Mile 291.2: Villadangos del Páramo

October 11, 2017

Today we said goodbye to León a vibrant city with friendly people.

Last night we went to the Pilgrim’s mass at the Basilica de San Isidoro. It has been awhile (since Burgos) and I really missed it. Saint Isidoro is next door to the hotel/monastery that we were staying at. Saint Isidoro’s remains are in a silver chest behind the altar.

Mass went well. There were about half pilgrims and half local participants. At the end the priest asked the pilgrims to come up to the front. He then asked if anyone would like to read the English translation. No one came forward so I raised my hand and went up. I was wearing the wrong glasses though. My street/driving glasses do have close-up magnification but only at the very bottom but I did well until I came upon a word in Latin. The lighting was poor and my eyes strained so when I saw this long Latin word I blurted out, “¡Ai Dios Mio! ¡No puedo decir esta palabra!” (Oh my God! I can’t say this word!” The priest laughed and helped me pronounce the Latin word.   He thanked me and I thanked him for the honor.

We had spent the day just walking around León and going off the “beaten path” into areas that tourists and pilgrims don’t usually go. Found a ferreteria (hardware store) where I could buy a bottlebrush for the water bottles. In front was an abbey and as we were standing there a man approached us and asked if we were lost. My husband told him that we were lost on purpose. He then told us that there was once a wall that blocked the street there and that the abbey was for cloister nuns. They were poor so they took in clothes to mend. People are so friendly here. We joked and talked to other people as we walked around. We felt at home.

We also found a plaza that is dedicated to Don Gutiérre. My husband’s surname is Gutiérrez. In Spainish the “z” at the end of a name means “son of.” Don Gutiérre had quite a noble life. He was a 14th century knight loyal to Alphonso the 11th. He helped put down the rebellion against the king on Calle Mata Siete. Afterwards he renounced all possessions and became a pilgrim on El Camino where he became lost to legend.

The following morning as we were having breakfast when the priest from the last night’s mass came up to us to say good morning. His name is Hermano (Brother) Francisco and he resides in the monastery. It was really nice to see him again.

After mass Hermano Francisco had told us all about a modern church that we would be passing on our walk today: La Virgin del Camino. So today we began our walk there. The church is modern and interesting in its mixture of simple and interesting artwork. We got our stamps for the day there, prayed and meditated, and continued on El Camino.

The path parallels a busy roadway. There is an alternative road that goes out more into the páramo (grassy high plains with some small trees or bushes) but our hotel was not along this pathway so we walked by the roadway. We were keeping good time and there were a couple of places to stop for a break. Then about 1 mile from our hotel the muscle that I had had problems with last week snapped…OUCH!!! (…and damn!)

So I had to slow down and limped my way to the hotel. It’s a nice hotel by the roadway. We had our room changed to the back so it would be quieter and since there’s really nothing much to see here we are spending the day resting…and there’s a bathtub! Hot water and Epson’s salts!!! …a sore muscle’s friend.

El Camino can be quite a challenge at times.

Mile 299.3: Hospital de Órbigo

October 12, 2017

The day was to be much the same as yesterday…but it wasn’t.

We continued on the same route as yesterday along a busy roadway but the trail curved away from the road and took us into a tree-covered path. Some parts were rocky while other parts soft with dirt or trampled grass. As cars and trucks passed by to the side, we enjoyed the shade and cover.

Except for an occasional pilgrim on bike, we did not meet any pilgrims walking. Guess most had left very early for Astorga or they were on the alternative route away from the roadway. It was rather nice to have El Camino to ourselves.

We took a break by a barn made of red brick. The bricks have holes that go thru from one side to the other and are solid on the other two sides so they lay them in such a way that there are parts of the wall that are solid and other parts with holes for the light to get thru. I sat on an old truck tire so I could take off my boots and we each eat a small, sweet pear. Birds flew around us and sang and I heard a thumping in the barn. Something from inside sniffed and wined. There was a dog inside to guard the barn. It was lonely. I felt so sorry for it. If anyone ever tried to break in I think the dog would be so happy that it would lick and kiss them.

We made it to Hospital de Órbigo in record time: 3.5 hours.   To enter Hospital de Órbigo we crossed a medieval bridge that had been built over a Roman one. It’s the longest one that I have seen with cobblestone road stretching over a river that is mostly dry.   Before we crossed we met our first pilgrims walking. They are from England and happy to meet someone from Illinois. They are keeping track of the states of the Americans that they are meeting and Illinois was a new one for them. We crossed the bridge together.

There is a story about this bridge…A story about a knight and his love for a lady…for a month he challenged any knight who tried to cross the bridge and won over all. He then went on a pilgrimage to Santiago and a year later married his lady.  Twenty-five years later he was killed in a battle by one of the knights that he had defeated.  Every year now in spring there is a festival below the bridge with medieval games.

We are staying at a beautiful Hotel Rural called Nuestra Señora de Lourde. The owner is from Portugal, Doña Dolores, and she has a big heart. She remembered my husband from two years ago since he was walking with a hernia.  She’s also a great cook. The hotel is more like a home with two open spaces for gardens: one in the front and the other in the back. Our room looks over the front garden. Unlike many hotels that close for the winter season, she stays open all seasons for the pilgrims because, as she told me, there is always a need.  She only closes for Christmas.  Like I said…A big and beautiful heart.

There are not a lot of pilgrims here in Hospital de Órbigo. The tour books suggest having lunch here and moving on; what a shame. There are some really nice places to spend the night here. Even the inside of the albergue looked nice with a garden. I like shortening my day more so that I can enjoy both the walk and the area that I am spending the night in.

El Camino has heart.

Mile 312: Astorga

 October 13, 2017…Friday

Today we were denied entrance to the Astorga Cathedral during the time for prayer and meditation…

El Camino took us away from the busy roadway and into valleys and hills, thru villages and farmland. It has been awhile since we have had to go up and down hill. Took a bit to get the stamina back but it did.   Met new pilgrims to talk to and share the road with. Hope we meet again. At the Cruceiro de Santo Toribio we met a man who was tending the roses and trees that are planted near the cross. He surrounded himself with lady pilgrims and said a prayer for us. He asked us to hug St. James for him when we get to Santiago. His name is Don José.

(Note: There is a bust of St. James behind the altar in the Cathedral in Santiago. You go up some stairs and you can touch it from the back. Two years ago, during the Pilgrim’s Mass, a lady was up there (it is suppose to be closed off during mass) and while the priest was performing mass we could see two hands and arms in a bright peach long sleeved top reach out around St. James’ shoulders and touch his face. It was a bit distracting but interesting…not what one expects during mass.)  (Actually I had to bite my tongue to stifle a laugh.)

From the hill where the cross is the view of Astorga is beautiful. The Cathedral dominates it all. Astorga is in an area where the people of a unique culture are called Maragatos. It’s not known what their origin is, there are several theories, but these people have created a unique culture for themselves after being isolated from the rest of Christian Spain when they were surrounded by the Moors. A couple of days ago at the hotel that we were at the cook is from Astorga and she served us food from the area: chickpeas with veggies, a varity of meats; the last course is soup. It was so delicious. Before we came into Astorga today we stopped at a bar for lunch called Oasis that my husband had come to the last time he was here. The owner was so nice and personable. He father makes the tortillas (potatoes and egg baked in a pan). It was the best I have had…he used herbs and just the right amount of spices.

So it was with a satisfied stomach and expectations of new experiences that we entered Astorga.

Our hotel is right across from the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace that Gaudi designed. They are both beautiful. The palace is closed though because of the holiday so we decided to go to the Cathedral and light a candle for my mother-in-law and pray and meditate. There is always a side door open for the hours that the churches and cathedrals are open for spiritual moments…no photographs allowed. So I put my small camera away. When we approached the side door people were entering the Cathedral. There were signs on the door that it was a time for prayer and no photos allowed. When we approached and tried to enter though a man stepped in front of us and would not let us in. I told him what we were coming for and he looked at us with distain and told us to go to the front and wait with the tourists. He shut the door on us. Later we met some other people who had the same thing happen to them. It was so upsetting. We have been in many churches and Cathedrals during our walk on El Camino. Only one other was a bit strange…the pilgrim’s mass in Burgos at the Cathedral where the priest was only interested in the Polish and German pilgrims. There, when he was asking if there were any Polish pilgrims and no one answered a man said he was from Canada. The priest didn’t know how to take that. In actuality, there were pilgrims from all over the world at that mass, but we were not important to that priest.

My husband ended up writing an e-mail to someone on the Astorga Cathedral’s website since the manager in the ticket office was no help to us.  He told us that we could speak with someone “tomorrow at 11 in the morning” and then offered to let us in during the tourist hours free…we declined the offer.

I think these big Cathedrals are forgetting that they are houses of God.

(Note: My husband received an answer from one of the priests at the Astorga Cathedral. It was a lovely reply. He said that this should never have happened and that it never will again. He also lit a candle for my mother-in-law and said a prayer for her.)

I look forward to walking tomorrow…

El Camino gives one time to meditate and be closer to God.

Mile 324.1: Rabanal de Camino

 October 14, 2017

We are leaving the countryside of adobe and tile homes to stone and slate ones.

Was good to get out of Astorga. Found a modern church not far from the center where we had stayed…looked friendly to pilgrims. We gained some altitude…our phase is changing to mountains…Mountains of León.   Found it better to walk on asphalt when possible. Passed thru towns that were really interesting…a lot of old buildings made of stone, many in bad state but others have been renovated.

Saw a pilgrim in front of us who seemed to be having trouble walking. We stayed behind him just in case he needed help. At a rest stop right before the final phase there were 4 kittens about 6 months old. They seemed well fed and were friendly. The last phase took us up on a rocky trail that wasn’t so bad; smooth areas of dirt and rocks big enough to use as steps. There was a wire fence full of crosses that pilgrims have made and left. It went on and on and on.

Here I met a young lady who quit her job as a nurse.  She’s tired of the way the hospitals are running too much as a business and less as a service so she decided to sell everything that she didn’t need and walk El Camino. When she finishes she will join a nursing organization that works overseas.  I have heard from other nurses the same issue with our medical organizations in the U.S.  I wonder how many nurses and doctors we are loosing because of this.

Rabanal de Camino is a very charming town. Renovated stone buildings as well as lots of broken down ones. The hotel is really nice. Dinner was one of the best.   We went to church, looking forward to hearing the monks sing Gregorian chants but it turned out that they were gone for the season so the priest who is also a Benedictine Monk sang most of the sermon.  It was beautiful.  He also spoke in Italian, English, German, and Spanish.  At the end he gave a blessing to the pilgrims.

Before dinner we walked around the town…lots of friendly cats…there’s a man who feeds them. It is a really nice town and people are friendly and grateful for the business that the pilgrims bring. We met 8 to 10 people who were sitting on stone benches and talking, this is called a tertulia…spending time in the evening with neighbors talking. They are all from here but some live in Madrid and were visiting. I was taking photos of a door and a man, Don Manuel, opened the door for us so we could see the oak beam. It was about 18 x18 inches thick and 250 to 300 years old. We had a wonderful time talking with them and learning about the area and history, as one lady said, “Gratis.” It didn’t cost us anything.

Note: Church is old and shows it age but it is beautiful in its simplicity.

El Camino brings people together…

Mile 334.1: Molinaseca

 October 15, 2017

Overall today’s walk was the best in a long time…

Day started off really well…trail was rocky in center but good smooth side paths. Feet did well as we past cattle, sheep and the sound of hunters shooting and past thru a ghost town where the stone houses were in various stages of disrepair. One house was rebuilt with solar and wind energy. There was a colorful retreat where the man who runs it wants to change the world (the question is to what?). Met our friends from Canada…haven’t seen them in several weeks. Leaves are changing color. It was a really beautiful day crossing the Mountains of León. Threw my rock under the Cruz de Ferro and released my heavy load (I hope). Walked to the highest point of El Camino. It was after all this that things went bad…

Trail was rocky like the one to Zubiri…slate and loose rock for the first part of the decent and this was only the first and shortest of two descents. I heard people catching up with me and I turned to see a couple coming quickly down the rocky trail. I stood aside and told them that if I walked as fast as they I would be laying on my face. The man told me that that would not be good. He was from Australia. Australians seem to be the hardiest of the hikers. Later my husband and I took the road instead of the trail and we passed the same couple…both looked exhausted and in pain.

We had to go back on the trail again and it was hard and I was not in a good mood but each step forward means a step closer to the end (of the first phase). People passed me who looked fresh and carried little. One lady told me that they were using a tour bus to help with some of the distance. “We are cheating.” She said. “No.” I said. “You choose your own path.”

In the end there was a switchback trail that made the decent easier and there I was in Acebo where my friends from Canada were having lunch and many of the people who had passed me were enjoying refreshments. They welcomed me and I felt better. I knew, though, that I could not make the next leg of this decent…only 5 miles but at my pace I would be there till dark so we called a cab from La Casa del Peregrino where my husband had met Don Carlos two years before who runs it and lived once in Puerto Rico.

The cab driver told us that this is the worst part of El Camino and the erosion has been really bad exposing more of the rock. We drove down a steep, hairpin curved road that was not wide. There were many pilgrims on the road walking. I think this is the most dangerous area of El Camino that we have encountered…either the steep rocky trail or the curvy mountain road. I am glad that we took a cab the last 5 miles. Our feet hurt and my leg muscle is stiff.  That night at dinner people told us that they wished that they too had skipped the last climb down.  The last few miles were steep and treacherous.

Do I feel bad that sometimes we have taken a cab to shorten our day of walking or avoid dangerous areas? No. I have met people who have broken their bones, lost a tooth, twisted their ankles, lost their toenails, hurt their knees. There are pilgrims that begin their walk in the dark of the morning and end up falling. I have met pilgrims that don’t walk more that 7 miles a day or decide where they are going to end the day when they become tired and find a place to stay. For me, 13 miles is my limit, down hill is the worst and a road of sharp pointy rocks that do or do not move is a nightmare. I still have a long ways to go and so far I have walked most of it. The Way can be painful and hard but it is full of wonderful surprises, people and places to experience. I would not have it any other way…I will walk with my head, I am not here to prove anything to anyone…I am here to learn.

El Camino can be demanding…

Mile 350: Ponferrada

 October 16, 2017

 We have gone 350 miles from our starting point of St. Jean Pied de Port and we have walked 334.1 of those miles. I am only counting the miles that we walk.

We decided not to walk the 5 miles to Ponferrada today. Our feet hurt and there are new muscles that I am learning that I have. One at the bottom of my rib cage; it is sore and must have helped me a lot yesterday as I was descending the mountain. We need a rest before we begin our new phase.

The day began dark and smoky. There are fires in Spain. More than 200 that were purposely started. People do this so that they can later go in and scavenge what remains. All the fires began at the same time right before winds from a tropical storm hit…it is being called “Terrorism by Fire.” People are loosing their homes, their lives, forests and animals are dying, and an elderly man lost his life trying to save his goats. What type of person can do this just for a little profit? People are mad. Some one called it the “Law of Sancho Panza”…the guilty only get a slap on the hand. People are mad. Tonight there were protests all over demanding that the guilty be punished.

We spent the day exploring the Templar Castle, which is actually three. It was interesting to see and there is a beautiful exposition of illuminated books there.

“El libro es lumbre del corazón…”

 “A book illuminates the heart…”

Ash fell around us all day with the smell of smoke permeating the air. We enjoyed dinner with our friends from Canada. We had not seen them in several weeks and this maybe the last time. As we had dinner people in the plaza protested against the fires.

Tomorrow there will be rain.

Pilgrim’s Passport as of October 16, 2017:



¡Buen Camino!

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Mile 230.7 Calzadilla de la Cueza

October 4, 2017

Though San Zoilo Hotel Real Monasterio was restful, it was time to move on.

As we left the hotel there was a cart with two horses across the street and a group of women getting ready to climb onto the cart. We knew some of them. They decided to enjoy their journey to Calzadilla de la Cueza by horse and cart. (We later found out that one of the ladies wasn’t feeling well so she and her mother had decided to take the cart and others joined them.)

The driver tried to convince my husband and I to do the same. He said that there was nothing from here to there and no water sources. We told him we were ready and both carry 2 liters…not what he wanted to hear.   We wished them well and moved on.

El Camino is rather flat in the phase that we are on and still runs thru rather dry farm land…but nothing? So not true. It is full of texture and birds and old abbeys to discover. There was even a rest stop with shade (no water) and a food truck where the owner was roasting really good sausages that he added mustard and tomatoes to on a bun. The trail was not so rocky and for a while shaded (a bit) by trees. Later the trees were only on one side—the wrong side for shading the road.

We met some ladies that were riding bikes. They ride a few days and then walk. They told me that it gives an alternative to a sore bum to sore feet. They were not well covered though…tank tops and no cover for their heads. I hope they don’t end up too sun burned.

I know to pace myself when I walk but I am also pacing my rest stops now. When my feet begin to hurt I stop where I can and take my boots off and massage and move my toes. It makes a big difference. We kept a good pace and walked 2 miles an hour today. Made it to Calzdilla de la Cueza in good time.

We are staying in a hotel that is owned by a pilgrim: Don Cesar. He has 3 certificates on his wall and is so friendly…more fatherly to the pilgrims; he has a big heart.   Our pilgrim’s dinner was good: lentil soup, chicken and I choose the ice cream (drum stick) but should have taken the apple tart (the best I have seen). The Pilgrim’s wine got better with the meal. The company was even better! We sat with 4 people from France who are doing El Camino in parts so this is their second set. We really had fun with them even though the language can be a challenge. Hope we meet again.

El Camino always has something to share.


Mile 247.4 Sahagún

October 5, 2017

Today we received our first certification.

We halved our walk and took a cab to Moratinos where there are bodegas (the little buildings in the hillsides) so that we would get to Sahagún early to explore this town that is the halfway mark between Roncevalles (the official start for Spaniards) and Santiago. The road was flat and not so rocky. We had a rest and KAS de Limón in the only town we passed and a rest at a nice park with interesting and comfortable metal chairs to sit or lie on. The park is next to an old Abbey. There is also a marker there that depicts the exact spot of the geographical halfway point.

Upon arriving to Sahagún we freshened up and had another KAS at a bar in the plaza where our hotel was. We had decided not to go to the church where the certificate for the halfway point was given since it was an uphill climb. Instead we asked the bartender where the nearest market was. He spoke really fast (as they do here) but I understood; my husband got confused. We headed down the road and turned right as we had been told to do. We looked and looked and looked for a sign that said market. Saw an alley but no market and no sign (turns out it was a large logo and with a very small letters saying “Market”). We asked a pilgrim who had a bag of tomatoes and she too was very confused. Said she had followed a lady to it but now wanted to go back and couldn’t find it either. We walked away and then she called us back again. She found it. It was the alleyway…it led us to the front of the market. Kind of was a surreal event for all three of us.

Afterwards we went to an abbey to see about a mass where the Mother Superior blesses the pilgrims. Met another pilgrim who had the certificate for the halfway mark between Roncevalles and Santiago. She showed it to us, it was beautiful, and asked if we had gotten ours. She convinced us to go.

The certificates are handed out at the Peregrina (female pilgrim). It is an old church under restoration and is now a museum. We had to go up-hill a bit but it was worth our weary bones to do so. What is there is beautiful and interesting since it has Moorish influences and a statue of the Pilgrim Virgin that was done by a woman sculpture. The architecture is called mudéjar. It is a mixture of Christian styles of Romanic, Gothic, and/or Renaissance with Muslim style architecture or art.


We also ended up meeting up with our friends from Colorado AND our new friends from France! Later we had dinner with the ladies from Colorado (one was celebrating her birthday).

El Camino brings good souls together.


Mile 257.6 El Burgo Ranero (The Frog Hamlet)

Today we walked to a hamlet famous for its frogs and the song they sing.

Did really well today. Was able to keep my normal pace (2 to 2.25 miles an hour).   I took breaks and stretched my toes when I could (happy feet!) There were rest places along the way and even benches along the trail (thanks to the Friends of El Camino). The trail was tree lined and the trees were on the correct side so the shade went across the trail. The day was cooler for the most part.

We had lunch in a small town called Bercianos del Real Camino. I wanted a plate of “verdaderos” (veggies) for lunch without egg. Ended up with a plate of tomatoes and some zucchini scrambled up with egg…oh well. I could have sent it back but didn’t want to waste it. It is so hard to get just veggies sometimes.

As we were walking out of the town I was taking photos of doors, windows and walls (love the old stuff) and there was a house with metal bars on the windows and front wall that had little figures on it. I loved it and asked the two men sitting on a wood bench under a tree if it was their house. One said yes. They got a kick at me photographing the ironwork. In fact there were words along the rail: Bercian del Real Camino Frances.   As I took photos, my husband got into a conversation with them. People are curious about the U.S.; what we think about our present government in Washington, and history in general. As we talked other pilgrims passed by and never noticed the ironwork that honored them.

The road was long and straight with a few curves up. It paralleled along a road that had little traffic. We walked most of the way on the asphalt rather than the semi-rocky trail…much easier on the feet.

At one point there was a deep ditch that crossed under the road. It was full of green plants contrasting the dry vegetation around it. A noise undulated from one side to the next…up and down the ditch…kind of a low fast series of clicks. I stopped and listened. It was so calming; I could hear the wave in the movement of the sound.   I take it that that was the ranas (frogs) singing. That is what this little hamlet (burgo) is named after: ranero

Later my husband and I walked around town. There are a lot of old adobe homes here. Most in bad condition and some for sell. We went to the church and it was closed with no hours for the mass. We sat down on one of two ornate metal benches in front and soon an elderly lady came by. We greeted her and began a long conversation.   She, of course, told us that her husband is sick…he has no energy. She then told us that she came to the area as a young woman to work in a butcher shop near the train station. She met her husband and stayed. I asked her if I could take a photo of her with my husband but she said no. She was wearing her housedress and was not made up well…she also told us that she is 88 years old and is not comfortable with photos. I actually found her to have a lot of character and beauty so it was too bad that she felt too self-conscience. But we had a wonderful time talking about life in general and joking. She told us that in the past there use to be a lot of pilgrims lined up to get into the church but over time it changed so now mass is only in the late morning.   I feel that this is so sad. The church should be open for the pilgrims that want to come: if not for mass then at least to be able to come in and enjoy and pray in the church. She told us that El Camino was “Mucho Sacraficio” (A big sacrifice.)

I don’t think like that but I get where she is coming from.

El Camino brings us gifts.


Mile 270.3 Mansilla de las Mulas

October 7, 2017

It began as a cool, crisp day and the trees along El Camino were dense and on the correct side of the trail so we had shade most of the way.

There is a quote that says that it is about the journey not the destination. There is so much to see, hear, touch, smell, and feel along El Camino. The way here is much like it has been for several days: dry, dusty farm land, sunny, warm (though is it cooling down a bit), towns with restructured adobe homes and adobe buildings in various states of disrepair. We meet people, dogs, and cats along the way. Today we conversed with a lady that had a beautiful rose garden. She said that it has been so warm that the roses are still blooming. She didn’t seem happy that it was still warm so I said yes but you still have roses. She laughed and introduced us to her four dogs.

There is a small airport that we passed and there were two small planes that were flying in circles landing and taking off so this gave us opportunities to take photos of them. They flew over the road so I got a shot of one as it flew directly over me. The other plane had flown over before and it “waved” its wings at us. We were the only pilgrims paying attention to them. They noticed.

Over the past several days, as a photographer, I feel like I have had a “Georgia O’Keefe” moment with my art. The area is not a desert but it is dry and arid. There is so much texture and contrast. The lone tree is more dramatic and when we do have clouds I think of a piece of hers that is hanging in the Chicago Art Institute. It is big and of clouds…rows and rows of clouds. The adobe buildings…the old ones…have so much character, the people too. I also think of her friend, Ansel Adams.

El Camino shows beauty in simplicity.


Mile 282.7 León

October 8, 2017

Today I woke up in a room with antique furniture, lace, and a view above a porch covered in grape vines. I didn’t want to leave…

El Camino was calling us so we did.

We crossed a bridge over the Esla River and began a new day along trails that parallel roads and went thru new towns to discover. We were headed to León.

We passed a house with lots of cats. The owners told us “Más gatos menos ratones.” (More cats; less mice.) We lunched at La Torre Alberge in Arcahueja that my husband had gone to before. The owner makes everything himself and is a really good cook. I had the albondeges (meet balls) and they were “Rico!” He was great to talk to and we enjoyed both food and conversation.

A note here: while we were eating three young pilgrims came in for something to drink and eat. They were very careful in what they ordered because of price. Two went outside to a table and one was waiting for his drink. The owner took a plate and placed one of his homemade chorizos in homemade cider sauce on it and cut it up in pieces. He then added some more portions of other items on the plate. He gave it to the young man and told him to share it with his friends. It was “gratis” (a gift).

There are many on El Camino who travels with little. Compassion is a gift from above.

Most of the trail to León went thru small towns. There is a new pedestrian bridge and rest stops. The Friends of El Camino have done a wonderful job making the way easier for us pilgrims these past several days. A bench in the shade means a lot.

And then we saw León and its cathedral in the distance. . .

We stopped for a KAS on the outskirts, rested and began our journey into this beautiful city.

As we began our walk in the older part of León, passing thru the old city wall we met a man and three ladies. He was curious about us as well as giving us some history of the area. We were near a church that he said was once the church that the pilgrims came to and its old name is still above the door: St. Maria del Camino. We introduced ourselves and he is the president over the Federación Española Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Santiago (Spanish Federation of Friends’ Associations of the Way of St. James.) He has walked El Camino several times and has written two books: one on pilgrims’ stories in the Hostels and the other one poetry of El Camino. We later found an interview with him in the magazine that they have at the Cathedral: Catedral d León.   Gracias Don Luiz Gutiérrez Perrino y los Amigos por sus dedicationes a los peregrinos.

Later as we walked thru León we met up with our friends from Oregon and a mother and daughter who we met before. We met later for dinner. One of the women from Oregon told us a story where she decided to bake a pie a day and give it away. Sometimes to a friend; sometimes to a stranger. She made over a hundred pies of different varieties. She has a blog on it; I hope she does a book. Her story and experience in giving is worth hearing.

On El Camino we break bread and learn more about each other.



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Mile 177.2 Hornillos del Camino/Isar

September 29, 2017

Today I began to better understand Earth’s stones. It’s not something I can explain; rather it’s an understanding of the heart…

The night before we left Burgos we went to mass in the cathedral. The priest was leading the rosary and I felt calm listening to the lady next to me recite it. Mass was rather mechanical though…so different from the pilgrim’s mass in San Juan de Ortega. He seemed more interested in the Polish and German pilgrims yet we were a diverse group from all over the world.

I will miss the bathtub that we had at the Abba Hotel in Burgos. It was big and easy to get into and out. We soaked in Epson’s salts and our feet and legs were happy.

El Camino was rather easy today. We walked 13.7 miles and only had 150 meters to climb on an easy grade to the Alto Meseta. The area is dry and the sky sunny. I have been wearing gloves and keeping my sleeves down to protect my skin. I passed a wall with bushes full of clustered white flowers and heard something I have not heard in a long time…the humming of happy bees. On the meseta we saw a shepherd and his two dogs and sheep clustered under the shade of a lone tree in a pasture full of rocks. We waved and he waved back.

Did I say it was an easy walk? Well…to get down the meseta the climb is steep and rocky. It is called Cuesta de Matamulas (The Slope That Kills Mules). It is steep and rocky. I took my time as people walked passed me and though I had no mule for it to kill it did get to my right shin. The muscle tightened and made the short walk to Hornillos del Camino difficult. It is now rested and better.

In Hornillos del Camino we called the owner (Don Miguel) of the casa rural (B&B), La Consulta, to pick up us. This is located in a small town called Isar about 2 miles from Hornillos del Camino and is a very nice place to spend the night (dinner was fantastic!) We rested and went for a walk by bodegas that are carved in the side of a hill were the people make their wine. We met a couple who has been married for 50 years and he talked about history and asked us questions about our roots and family. They wished us a long and happy marriage like theirs. We passed people enjoying conversation and companionship in their front gardens and greeted them.

Isar has a long history and use to have 400 people living there. Now there are few.

El Camino is an experience of culture and its people.

Mile 190.6 Castrojeriz

September 30, 2017

Today began great! The walk was easy and except for my sore muscle…I did great! Lasted 10 miles before my toes began to protest the last 3 miles. (They seem to do this as soon as I see the church tower.) Getting better! For lunch, though, I had a salad and I think it made me sick. So I’ve taken meds for it and am skipping dinner. Hope I feel better tomorrow!

We were walking thru a Meseta with undulating trails. The area is farmland where they grow grains. The ground is now barren and there are stacks of hay and rocks. Lots of rocks! We also passed old fortifications: rock walls and towers that have fallen (except one).

As we walked along the bicyclists pass us. With those pilgrims that are walking that I have spoken with (or overheard conversations) we agree that they are missing a lot as they zoom by!

Today several of us pilgrims were walking by an open field and there was a strange sound. We all stopped. A pilgrim from Spain was making this sound and it was being answered by dozens upon dozens of partridges. They were too far to get good pictures but it was magical…all of us (about 10) stopping to listen and seeing these birds. He told us that hunting season has begun so they are being displaced. We also saw vultures enjoying something. It’s not the first time that we have seen them…they have quite a wingspan.

I brought my Mp3 player so I could listen to Jazz and Latin Rock…haven’t used it though: too much to experience in the sounds around us.

We passed thru a small town called Hontanas from the word fontanas for fountains.  Before you approach it all you see is a slight dip in the horizon and then there it is below.  Different from most towns that are built on high ground.  There is a small chapel there dedicated to a pilgrim from the 14th century, Saint Bridget of Sweden, who in 1341 went with her husband on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It took them 3 years (round trip). When they returned her husband died and Saint Bridget dedicated her life to her faith.  The small chapel is a nice dedication to a pilgrim of the past.

Unlike the other towns that we have come upon where the first thing that you see is the church bell tower, with Castrojeriz you see the tall hill with a castle on it.

El Camino teaches thru it’s history.


Mile 207 Frómista

October 1, 2017

I didn’t walk today.

Yesterday I eat something at lunch that did my stomach in. It could have been worst but it left me weak. I didn’t eat for more than 24 hours. Just drank still and gas water.

It was a long dry walk for those on El Camino. I took a cab to Fórmista and had a good conversation with the driver. He was really simpático. I asked him what they grow here in the farms and he told me that 80 to 90% was wheat, than there were grains for beer and sunflowers for oil. It’s been a long dry year…not even snow. I told him that were I live when it snows we say that it’s good for the farmers.

He would point out where El Camino was and I watched the pilgrims as they walked. Then we came to a bridge were there was a rest stop with portable water for the pilgrims. My husband was standing on the bridge! The driver stopped after the bridge so we could talk. That is the only place were El Camino crosses the road.

There is a hill that is rather steep to climb.  My husband made it up in 13 minutes. It’s 1 km in length and 18% grade. People are calling him the goat now.

I am feeling better…more strength and have been drinking water. I will be eating an apple for lunch from now on like we were before.

Frómista has a renovated church that is now a museum.  Construction began in 1066 and was sponsored by a noble woman.  I love to go thru these old churches and take photos.  Looking closer at the details is fun too.  The photo of the pilgrim was in the dinning room of the hotel.

El Camino knows.


Mile 219.7 Carrion de los Condes

October 2, 2017

Today was a new day.

El Camino from Frómista to Carrion de los Condes is pretty level. We only gained 50 meters in the end and with a very gradual climb. We also had a choice:  We could walk along the road way or take a side route that added 1 km to our day. The side route goes by a small river and unlike the other choice has trees. We went for the river.

Good choice.

The road was less rocky and was softer in spots with grass to walk on. We took a rest at the first bar/restaurant (it was closed) but there was a nice picnic area with tables and benches made of stone. I took off my boots so my feet could move and rest (another good choice). A woman came by and was watering some plants, she let me know that the water fountain was drinkable water. It was cool and refreshing. A man came by in his car and offered me some almonds that he grows in his yard. He opened each one for me and I gathered them in my hat. I know that this was difficult for him but he was happy to do it for me. He told me that he does this for the pilgrims “gratis” (free). He said that he was 82 years old and closer to being with Jesus. He looked happy. I believe that giving almonds to the pilgrims is his pilgrimage. He also gave me a prayer card with a picture of Jesus on it. I showed him the prayer card that I keep in my pack of the Guarding Angle over-looking two children crossing a bridge. He told me that Jesus is the “jefe” (boss). He is a gentle soul. I took a picture of him and my husband took a picture of us together. He kissed me on both my cheeks as is the custom and as we left as he was giving almonds to two ladies that had just arrived.

We walked along the river and made good time. I did need to stop along the way to rest my feet. They begin to feel like pins and needles poking in the toes. Guess it’s a pilgrim’s curse…taking the boots off for a few minutes and massaging and moving the toes helps so much! Since I hadn’t eaten much in 48 hours I was hungry. We had shared an apple and tangerine at the rest area and I had eaten a few of the almonds but I needed something more. I was feeling a bit weak, then we came upon another bar/restaurant that was open. It had a structure in front of it that was round and old and the bar was a new structure. The name of the bar is Palomar del Camino. The lady, Juliette, told us that the 3 brother’s that own it decided to keep the palomar (dovecote) there as a historical site and add the bar/restaurant for their new business especially since pilgrims do pass this way. Palomars are found throughout the area and were once a source of revenue.

The food was “rica” and we sat in the back porch where we had a nice view of the area and watched pilgrims walking El Camino Policito (what the man with the almonds called the other road that we had not taken.) For more information on this wonderful place for food and rest and history please go to their website:


So in the end the true El Camino meets up with the El Camino Political and as political issues go:  the road was rocky, next to the freeway, no trees for shade, places to sit, or water sources. It was a long 5 or more miles. Our relief came from the elements: clouds that shaded us and a cool breeze.

Saw our first pilgrims on horseback.

Once we arrived to Carrion de los Condes we still had about 15 minutes to get to San Zoilo, a monastery that has been converted into a hotel and museum. So we went to a bar for a cool drink. A woman passed by our table and we recognized each other. She joined us and later her brother came by. We had started El Camino together. She is in her 70’s and 10 years older than her brother. She began El Camino carrying a full pack but it was too much so she “walked with her head” and now has a nice daypack and sends her larger one ahead using one of the transport services. We had a wonderful time talking and getting to know each other better. I so hope we meet again.

We took a day off resting at San Zoilo Hotel Real Monasterio: A beautiful setting with museum and gardens.

Besides the personable service that we received from the ladies in the restaurant at the hotel, my most memorable moment was in the afternoon of October 3rd.   Our room overlooked an inner court garden. The balcony window was open and a little girl, 18 months old, who was a few rooms down from us was at her balcony and making noises so that her voice would echo through the garden court.   It was so nice to hear. Then a lady looked out her window on the other side and said, “So there you are!” The girl then started to call out “Hola!” It was very relaxing and musical to listen to.

As more pilgrims arrived, more wet clothes appeared in the balcony windows…


¡Buen Camino!



Pilgrim’s Passport as of October 4, 2017

Critters (continued):

Fuzzy caterpillar, lone ant, pill bug, shiny black beetle that is oblong shaped, lavender butterflies, yellow butterfly with dark border on its wing, yellow and striped butterfly, colorful worm, a rabbit (though not across my path), flies, pesky flies, very pesky flies…I have begun to give them names and treat them like pets…their still very, very, very pesky. Guess it could be worst like those biting bugs we encountered the third and forth day out.


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