Initial reflections on the last day of walking

We gathered as a group at 8am coming from various alburgues and pensions.   We had 20km to go.

We walked as a group changing walking partners seamlessly as we went.  Since this was Terry and Janet’s second Camino they guided us throughout the morning.  We stopped for breakfast and saw others that we had met along the way.  Everyone was in great spirits but slow to want to move on.

We walked again and stopped again as we seemed to need another chance to talk as a group.  Again we were surrounded by more people we had met along the way.

We rounded a corner and Terry called to our attention that we were nearing the airport.  I was then overcome with emotion that the journey was quickly coming to the end.  Reality.  No matter how slowly I walked I wasn’t going to stop time.

We walked again for a bit and came to the John Paul II  monument.  Here we saw a lot of people and then all the young people caught up to us and rounds of hugs, tears, and stories were exchanged.  Again it was difficult to move forward toward the end.  We came to a house that had a yellow lab and a puppy.  We all stood at the fence petting the mother and coaxing the puppy to come over.  We were so silly but again, delaying the forward movement to Santiago.

The final 5km were the usual industrial parks and car dealerships that lead us into the bigger cities. We still didn’t have a visual of the Cathedral.

Coming to a huge street sign marking the Camino we all gathered for photos.  This was a great commotion as we had to take turns with all the cameras.  Again more people walked up and hugs and tears were flowing.

We walked on until we finally neared the old part of the city and Terry announced that we were just blocks away!

Then we rounded a corner and he said that we were nearly there.  Janet walked a bit ahead to capture our faces as we caught sight of the Cathedral.  I was moved to tears as I tried to express how much I enjoyed walking with so many of the people that arrived with us in the square.  I walked with girls as young as 20; who were taking breaks from college, people from different countries that I couldn’t remember where or when we met.

We posed for many photos and congratulated one another and stood for a while as new people entered the square.

A plan was made for a group dinner and then we sadly went our separate ways.  Nancy and I went to the Pilgrims office to present our credential that was stamped at the alburgues, churches, and restaurants throughout the journey.  We were then issued our compostela.

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Today’s walk

Today was the second to last day of walking.  After yesterday’s record walk of 9 hours, my body was slow to respond to the early morning hills.  We did have a great breakfast midway through the morning which helped fuel me for a little longer .at least until lunch.  At lunch I ate the biggest sandwich I have ever had in my entire life.  It was only 3e but it was at least 15″ long by3-4″ tall full of tuna, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and asparagus.  I cut it in half intending to save half for later but before I knew it I had finished the whole thing.  It will tough to give up all the bread, pastry, Wine, and Spanish candy when I get home.

Back to the walk….it was an emotional day…my feet are tired of walking, and I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed instead of a room full of bunk beds, and returning to my life at home with Terry and the girls…but I am going to miss the intense conversations with those I have walked with or dined with. I am going to miss the peaceful mornings walking alone with my thoughts and the surprises that were around nearly every corner along the way.  I will miss the slowness of the pace in which I have been living these past weeks and the awe of seeing new things and talking Spanish and laughing at the manner in which we have used charades to make ourselves understood. 

I have been humbled by the difficulty of the walking, surprised at how long it took me to really reach my limit of living in close quarters with many different people each night, and packing up each morning not knowing where we would be sleeping later that day.  I am surprised that I could wear the same two outfits every day and that I could carry Everything that I needed on my back.

This really has been a long walk .  I thought seriously about ending the walk at least twice but it has truly been the journey of a lifetime.

Tomorrow we walk to Santiago.  We are meeting at 8am to begin the final walk with Melissa from Mn, Karen and Mike from Pa, Janet and Terry from Vancouver, Christine and John from the UK, and Karen and Henry from Texas and Australia.  There are many others I hope to see in Santiago, most of which I can’t remember by name, but the stories will never be forgotten.

More tomorrow! 

 

  
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
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Random pictures and thoughts….

Feeling pretty wiped out but want to keep everyone updated a little… today we walked 22  km most of which was downhill so it shouldn’t have been bad except we had driving rain and heavy wind.  I actually really enjoyed the walk today and through the fog the mountain scenery was very pretty.  We had a nice pilgrim dinner tonight with folks from Minneapolis, Ireland, England, Spain, and British Columbia.  I had Galician stew and seafood paella that was fantastic, followed by home made flan and whipped cream.

I was down and out for a couple of days with what I think was dehydration.   I had been dizzy and exhausted for a couple of days and then woke with a terrible headache followed by committing.  Luckily it was a Sunday and as has been our habit we had a hotel room so I slept in while Nancy walked ahead.  I then took a city bus from Ponferrada to a central bus station and buss
ed to Villafranca de Bierzo.  Upon arrived at the alburgue I was given a cup of tea and shown my bed.  I slept the afternoon and still wasn’t well enough to walk so I again took a bus to the next stage while Nancy walked.  I missed one if the hardest uphill climbs of the trip up to Oceibreio but there was no way I could have made it.  Again the pharmacist was very helpful and provided a powder electrolyte replacement.  It tasted good and seems to be doing the trick!  It has me peeing like crazy but I feel so much better.

Tomorrow we head to Sarria which will mark 100km left to Santiago.  We are getting close!

   
Crazy macho bikers, it doesn’t look steep but they had just gotten off and walked.

 Villafranco de Los bierzo

   
 Alburgue in Tricastlesea (sp?)

   We literally had to wait at a cow crossing!  The cows looked at us with as much curiosity as we had!

 Weird little spot on the way that is entirely donation only by an American named Jennifer and an Australian named Simon.  There were couches in the barn and people just ate and drank and lounged.

   
Road to Sarria
     

   
Homemade flan!

 

Fresh squeezed orange juice vending machine.

The ant hills of Spain

Don’t ask me why but a few days ago I finally gave in to taking photos of the various ant hills that I had been noticing.  I just don’t understand what all these ants were doing on these remote trails when there isn’t anything to eat.  Anyway I am fascinated with these ants and what they could possibly be doing underneath our feet. 

When I went to hang my clothes at the last alburgue I noticed humongous ant hills and made mention of  them to the hospitalerio and he walked back to the garden with me. He said crazy lady, those are mole holes!  The face he made to demonstrate what a mole was priceless!  

    
 

Churches of Spain

Most of the time the first thing we see as we approach a town is the church steeple.  We have also oddly arrived just as the church bells are chiming!  The bells are a welcome reminder of God’s presence in our lives.  This is one thing that I think I will miss about Spain.

Most churches are locked as we go through town and I think it is because of the value of the items held inside the church.  Whenever one is open, I do go inside and light a candle for both our journey and for the intentions that I carry with me in my heart.  I stop, sit or kneel and close my eyes and breathe deeply to relax myself and focus my thoughts. 

The churches that I like the best are the least ornate.  Just a simple crucifix and altar are what I find the least distracting.  The others have many valuable paintings and very ornate gold altars and altar pieces which line the walls behind the altar and tell the story of Christ’s life.  I do appreciate the workmanship but it does seem to me to be way over the top.

We toured the Cathedral in Burgos with its many chapels but again just too ornate for me.  I heard today that the Cathedral in Leon was much more beautiful with its many stained glass windows.  I did not go in as I was resting my feet, I will need to return and tour It someday!

In Rabanal we stayed at a parochial alburgue that is run by the Confraternity of St. James based in England.  The fee for the night and breakfast was donativo which means you give what you can.   It was special in a few ways…. Tea was served in the garden at 4pm and we enjoyed it with 12 of our closest strangers representing several countries.  A tour bus came through town and was granted access to the garden and we sat as 60-70 people traipsed past us while we were enjoying our tea.  I felt a bit like an animal at the zoo.  We also were invited to attend vespers at the monastery across the courtyard.  There were 4 monks that sang their prayers in  a Gregorian chant style.  The church was small, plain, and very intimate.  I ended up going back a second time later that night for more chanting and a pilgrims blessing.  In between the church services a few of us sat around a fireplace and ate chestnuts that one of the girls from Latvia had gathered on her walk and roasted in the oven.  This was a very cool experience and mostly it was because of the church experience.

Tonight in Ponferrada at the Basillica de la encina, we witnessed a man playing his guitar and singing beautiful ballads right in front of the altar.  This was so unusual to see and hear.  

    
    
    
  Big nests are for storks.  
    
   

  

  

  

  

  

  

Astorga   

   
 

Contrasting Accommodations

Well, the old saying of “you get what you pay for” is mostly true when it comes to the quality and cleanliness of where we are staying.  Most of the time we only have a choice of one or maybe two places to stay within a small village and it is sometimes hard to tell from the outside.  Sometimes we are shown th he actual room before we pay and that is great, we can perform the bed bug check with our phone flashlights before committing.

It still is very inexpensive to travel as a pilgrim, with prices in an alburgue ranging from donativo (donation) to 10e.   Most important is to get a bottom bunk (it is hard to climb up metal bars in the middle of the night)  Next is to pick the right bunk in the room with good space around it to sort your stuff out upon arrival and for ease of packing in the dark in the am.   Finally, it is very handy to have an outlet near by to charge your phone.  Oh and a chair of little side table is great too! 

We started out with some nice alburgues that led me to believe that all was going to be fine with this Marriott loving/spoiled non camping city girl.  Then we started hitting the quirky ones!  

Good one has…..
Less than 8 bunks
A locker to secure your stuff when venturing out fir food
Bathroom and shower are in the same building
Bathroom and shower are single sex
A nice sunny courtyard or sitting area in which to relax
Heat
Exit time after 8 am. Best yet is 8:30!
A washer and a dryer that work or at least has a clothesline and clothes pins in the Sun fir more than an hour
Mattress covers that prevent bed bugs
A clean look and a clean smell
Is run by the Dutch…We are learning they are the cleanest
Has plug and a little reading light at each bed
Has good consistent wi-fi with an easy password

A nice clean kitchen to prepare some food instead of eating out every meal

Bad one has …..
The opposite of the above….plus
Snoring people
People who get up by th he crack of dawn and rustle their plastic bags and turn the lights on before 7
A Crowing rooster in the yard under your window
Geese in the yard that bite you in the butt while you are trying to protect your clothes from being swiped off the clothesline
An outdoor wash tub for your laundry
Makes you feel like it would be better to walk through the night the an to actually lay your sleeping bag out on it!

We really have been fairly lucky at picking a good place to stay, we consult our guide book, an on line site, an a forum on Facebook and try to pick a good one. We are learning that people we are walking with are a little closed mouthed about where they are headed or what has been recommended to them for fear that they will get there and find no room at the inn.  We are really glad we are not travelling over the summer when beds have to be at a premium and people are racing to get to them. 

Finally we are treating ourselves to a hotel once a week.  These are great hotels in the center of the city ranging from 55e to 83e for a room with 2 twin beds, with sheets and blankets, real towels, shampoo, soap and plenty of lights and outlets and a private bath.  Best of all we can lock our door, leave our stuff and stay until 11 or 12. 

    
 
   
    
 
Our room for tonight wish us luck!

Spanish Food

For breakfast, I usually have cafe con leche and a pastry of some sort or a pound cake type item wrapped in cellophane.  We have also been offered a toast like cracker with butter and jam. 

After a two or three hour walk we usually stop in a bar for more cafe con leche and possibly a tortilla which is actually a Spanish omelet made with slivers of potatoes and eggs and cooked in olive oil.  Some people eat tortilla sandwiched in between bread called bocadilla tortilla.  I am getting better and ordering actual fried eggs and just toast or towards. Sometimes I order ensalata mixta which is iceberg lettuce with corn,white asparagus,olives,tuna, and onion. There is no salad dressing except for oil and vinegar.  You can sometimes find salt but rarely pepper.

Dinner is usually not offered until after 7 and the Pilgrims meal usually is a three course offering for 10e lentil  or garlic soup or salad and then pork,chicken, or meatballs for the 2nd course and then yogurt,flan, or ice cream for dessert.   It is usually not possible to order off a larger menu except in a larger town. And there is not much ala carte offered to us.

One if the biggest issues is that we never know if we should go up to the bar or wait to be served.  You definitely can’t be in a hurry for anything.  Also some places only make a certain amount of food and it displayed in a showcase on top of the bar.  Once it is depleted it isn’t replenished until the cook return for the next meal.

The weirdest thing I have eaten was a bocadilla mochella Burgos.  I ordered it because it listed as  a  

  Fried eggs and bacon over French fries

  Fried egg with bacon, pork and salad

  Russian salad. Like potato salad with veggies 

  Lentil soup

  Big pan of paella

  

Tortilla and café con leche

 specialty on the menu.  When it came I was a little surprised by the appearance.  I knew it was a sausage of some kind but it was black and had bits of rice in it.  I took a bite, it was warm and a little crispy and flavored very pleasantly.  When the waiter came back I tried to find out what I had eaten. He was reluctant. He said if I tell you then you will not eat it anymore.  That’s when I knew it must be blood sausage!  It actually was delicious but I won’t order it again.

I believe I have already mentioned paella in another post, but we have had one really really good one and one that may have been out of a box mix!

Now that we are in Leon, we have been told that tapas are plentiful and that octopus is a specialty.  At lunch Nancy thought she was ordering onion rings based on a photograph.  We think it was actually very large  rings of calamari.    You are never quite sure until the food arrives and you take your first bite……

Drinks in Spain….cafe con leche.  1.4 e
Fresh squeezed Orange juice…magnificent.  2.5 e
Wine….cheaper than water!!!!

Finally, the one constant throughout every meal, a basket of bread!   Never any butter, sometimes olive oil but mostly dry and delicious!

   
Roast chicken and fries

Chocolate croissant  
Mixed salad and beer with lemon  

Ham and cheese sandwich  Fig fresh off the tree

Interesting people and conversations along the way

I am meeting and having really nice conversations with people from all over the  world and these are in depth conversations that we rarely get into during the course of our busy days. 

I will try and list the countries represented so far

US:  AZ, CA, TX, MI, RI, MT
Canada
Mexico
Brazil
England
Ireland
Wales
Portugal
Spain
France
Germany
Sweden
Denmark
Netherlands
Italy
Germany
Latvia
Norway
Poland
Romania
Australia
Korea
Estonia

I know I am missing some but it’s almost time for bed!

We met a lady who has been to see the Dalai Lama.  Someone else was serving in Calcutta and knock on the convent door and asked to speak with Mother Teresa.  She was readily granted access to her and had a great conversation with a very humble and peaceful woman of God.

So many people have done years of service in other countries especially Africa.  And many people have traveled extensively and speak more than one language.  Even if English isn’t their primary language they are as able to quite easily converse with us.  I feel very unworldly and inadequate in these people’s presence but feel I am quite a good listener and have an ability to ask the right questions to really get people talking. 

Quite a few people have  walked the Camino more than once. Honestly I am not experiencing the urge to repeat this journey any time soon but I will get back to you as I get closer to the end of the journey.  A rock along the way today offered this piece of advice.  “Don’t quit before the miracle happens” 

Tomorrow’s post, contrasting alburgue experiences!

   
Me and two old Spanish dudes that I tried to converse with in Spanish. We three tried so hard and laughed a lot.   Smiling and laughter truly are universal.

Two very nice Swiss ladies, Gabriella and Sandra    

The German grand ma and grand pa and their grandchildren. We heard them behind us before we saw them. They were singing as they walked! 
The shop owner of a very cool place in Estella

Tamara from California    
Inma and Fernando, Becky’s host family from Toledo

Spanish medicine and the kindness of strangers

As I said in the previous post, I was driven into Fromista and dropped off at the Bus station. I offered a few euros for the lift but the driver refused graciously.  I waited until he was ready to go and slipped some coins into his pocket as we said goodbye, that he did not refuse!

Now to find the doctor’s office in town and ultimately explain my medical issue. It took me three stops for directions because I can’t understand more than two turns at a time. Finally I got close enough to the office that a little old man saw me limping and gently took my arm and ushered me to the clinic. There were two doors and one looked more like an emergency door so I picked the other and headed to recepcion. Luckily I had taken a picture of my blister so all I had to do is hold up the photo and make a sad face. Not knowing what to do next I whipped out my passport. That caused a fumbling through drawers until they found the price list in English. I held out my credit card, but nope cash only.  I pulled out the lowest amount of 45 e but was told no. The higher level was needed at 75e. 

During all of this commotion streams of people were coming in.  I figured I was going to lose the whole day waiting to be seen but I think since I was a paying customer I was walked over to the urgent area and taken right into an examination room.  From there it took a while until the nurse came in but they continuously came in and checked on me.  Once we got  started the nurse cleaned the area and clipped away at the blister.  I was laying on my stomach and must have looked bad (I have white coat syndrome) as she asked me if I was ill!  I said yes!  They did say it wasn’t infected but was very deep.  All I know is it looked nasty..then I tried to ask about how to care for the blister that’s when the doctor was fetched.  She had pretty good English and I tried to get across that my feet were really hurting along the edge. She poked and prodded until she found the sore area.  She decided it was inflammation and gave me a prescription for 600 mg of ibuprofen and squirted  an ointment in a plastic test tube like container.  All together I was probably in and out in 40 minutes and my travel insurance should reimburse for the expense.

By now Nancy arrived at the clinic.  We had two or three preselected meeting places in case we missed each other!  Now on to the pharmacia for the prescription!

It seems that no matter what I do, I attract the attention of a local old person. In the pharmacy a little old lady helped me find tape and gauze , no easy task to explain in Spanish! Then she tried to diagnose some bites that Nancy had received, She felt they were mosquito bites, with some very funny hand and body gesturing here.  We asked if they could be cinches (bed bugs)  She was  adamant that they were mosquito bites so we were relieved for 5 minutes or so until the pharmacist said no, they are bed bug bites!   He gave Nancy  a lotion and tea tree oil.  For my blisters I received an ointment that we later found out was olive oil and honey among other natural elements.  I showed him the cream that the doctor gave me and he was puzzled and upset because it wasn’t labeled, his best guess was cortisone cream. Add the tape, gauze,ointment,prescription for anti inflammatory, and antiseptic spray all I needed to do is cough up 53e. It was as n expensive day but It meant I was able to walk a little bit to the next town.  Only lost a few hours and now know a bit more about blister care. Wish I could get the blister prevention down, I do think that the lotion I have been la
thering on my feet each night since we started has warned off the bed bugs so far for me.

 The worst one that sent me to the clinic

My arsenal

 

Castrojeriz to boadilla del Camino

Today’s walk started with a brisk 12 degree climb followed by an 18 degree descent; What goes up must come down, right?; A few days ago I had a blister on my left foot which is now nearly healed; Yesterday I developed a blister under another blister on the other foot. I performed “surgery” on it before heading out this morning but it quickly became very painful. I switched to my sandals and made it to our destination by listening to the podcast serial.

The terrain after the big hill became very beautiful with rolling terraced hillside.  The clouds today we’re beautiful and the air was very cool it is feeling like fall.  We passed a herd of sheep being tended by a donkey.  We looked and looked for the shepherd and the dogs but never saw one.  A man passing by told us that the donkeys are bred to tend the flock and st 5 pm each day the donkey drives the sheep through town and the sheep each return to their respective yards!  We think the Spanish sheep are highly intelligent.

Upon arrived at the En all alburgue, I ask for a doctor or clinic to look st my foot, there was none but a man who had been a medic in the Air Force was nice enough to treat it after I had washed my foot!  A  girl from California and a girl from Japan distracted me while the blister was lanced and drained and iodine was put on it. I think I was in shock, but I laid down and slept for a couple of hours after I had a good cry!

Tomorrow the owner will drive me and another injured American couple to the next town where I will go to a clinic and hopefully rest a day.  Nancy will walk to the town and then we will plot our next move.  So frustrated!