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A Pilgrim Tale: epilogue


It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.

~Selma Lagerlof

Mike and I take the bus to Finisterre. It is the first time I have ridden in a motorized vehicle in five weeks. It feels strange. We pass a lemon tree, and I realize I can’t smell it. A woman works in her garden, but there is no scritch scratch of the hoe. When we first glimpse the sea, I don’t smell the salt, or feel the ocean breeze, or hear the birds. Everything is at a remove. Like I am watching the world pass by on television.


Long before the discovery of the “new world”, Celts and Romans called this westernmost town of Galicia Finisterre because they believed the world ended here. They named the coastline el Costa da Morte, Coast of Death, because so many ships sailed from here, never to return. Finisterre was a place of pilgrimage even before Santiago as ancient peoples came here to see the place where every day the sun died.

It is not uncommon for Santiago pilgrims to continue to Finisterre and/or Muxia. We do not have time to walk it, so we have chosen to ride here for a couple of recovery days before flying home. Jan and David, on the other hand, began the walk this morning, and we made our most difficult goodbye yet, waving to them from the window til we could not see them any longer.


The Hotel Langosteira, feels like a little slice of heaven. Bright, light-filled rooms decorated in white and blue with whimsical touches of colored glass, mosaic, and reclaimed wood. And our balcony overlooks the sea. All for just 40 euros/night. Oh yeah, and we have a bath that we do not have to share with anyone! I take LONG, HOT showers just because I can. πŸ™‚


On our second day, we walk out to Cape Finisterre. Here we see the Faro Lighthouse, a cross, a bronze boot, and several burn sights where pilgrims have incinerated various items they do not plan to take home. Mike and I seat ourselves on a rock and are looking out over the sea when I sense someone approaching us from behind. Suddenly a familiar voice says, “It’s really pretty, huh?” Jorge! We knew they were heading this way sometime today, but figured the odds of our running into one another were low. But what does camino magic care about odds?


We follow him round the hill to find Steph and Kathy, both of whom ceremonially toss their boots into the sea. Or thereabouts. πŸ˜‰ Jorge launches a pair on behalf of Catherine who has already begun her homeward journey. We take one more crazy group photo and give one last round of hugs. Then, Mike and I watch them walk up the hill. I can’t look away until the last of them has vanished into the sky. And I know this pain of leaving is part of the price of having known and loved such amazing people. It is a price worth paying.


Mike and I carefully make our way down to a large rock near the foaming surface where we can feel the spray against our face. Here we sit for a very long time without saying anything, just letting all of this–the excruciating beauty, the accumulated fatigue, the hard letting go, the satisfaction of completion, the whole extraordinary experience of these last few weeks–have its way with us.



We walk back to town and have a late lunch near the harbor. I spend the rest of the afternoon journaling. Trying to capture the stories while they are still fresh in my mind. Hoping the rough notes I have written in snatches here and there, along with the photos, will help me remember. Because they are stories worth telling. Of this I am sure.


Recollection is the final discipline of the pilgrim-poet-traveler, which entails recalling the vows taken before departing, revering the idea that once we have been blessed with the gift of the journey, so now we must bless. We can continually recall beauty through the practice of memory, through daily acts of imagination that seize the moments that once seized our hearts…

The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly. What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

*Thank you, Jorge, for the group photo.

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…


We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.


We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.


This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.


Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.


We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.


You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.


Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-two


We repeat some familiar themes on this, our last full day of walking.

Anise has been with us from the beginning. Forever, when I think of Spain, the scent of licorice will be in my mind. We run our hands over it to release its fragrance and also for the way it makes our hands feel soft. I promise myself I will plant it in my garden next year.



And there are sheep. I remember them scattered out all across the Pyrenees with their bells and long fleeces on that day when the wind was so fierce. And there was the stampede on the dry, flat meseta. The young shepherd boy beneath the tree. Today it is a small flock, and they seem to want to walk with us. We think that’s sweet. Not so much their shepherdess. πŸ™‚


Perhaps I have neglected to mention Jan’s love for obsession with animals. All along the camino, she has found them. And they have found her. They all seem to sense the goodness in her and her great love for them. So it is fitting that they are out in force to bid her buen camino just here at the end.

We sing and re-sing some of our favorite camino repertoire. But mostly we are quiet. Quieter than usual, anyway. Each of us readying for the culmination of our journey in our own way.


Monte del Gozo, Mount of Joy, is so called because it was once the first point on the camino from which pilgrims could glimpse the spires of the cathedral. Today that view is obstructed, but the nearness of it is palpable. We see Santiago spread out below us and it is far larger than I imagined. This startles me a bit.

The final albergue of our journey is the very clean and efficient Xunta Albergue where we will sleep for 6 euros. There are 400 beds spread over this hillside, but on this evening, in the middle of October, not nearly all of these will be required. We bathe, then walk up to the monument honoring two of the more famous pilgrims of the Way, St. Francis and Pope John Paul II. Pilgrims sit at the foot of the monument or on blankets spread out on the grass, scribbling in journals or sharing stories.


We have been in communication with some of our friends and know that many of us will arrive in the city tomorrow. Though it would be lovely to walk in together, trying to organize this feels contrived. So we will trust the process by which we have marvelously found one another over and over again along the road. We have lost track of several of our young friends, but hope against hope that we will somehow find them there as well.

Buen camino, friends. See you in Santiago…


May the stars light your way and may you find the interior road. Forward!

~traditional Irish farewell


A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-one


HΓ³rreos. We have been seeing them all over since passing into Galicia (though not often so well guarded). πŸ™‚ Always raised. Constructed of various combinations of wood, brick, and stone. Usually ornamented with crosses, bells, etc… Early on, we came up with some pretty outlandish theories regarding their use, because there was one in pretty much every yard, big or small, city or country. (Let’s just say, we might have been overly influenced by having slept too near the dead.)


Turns out they are graneries, or as we would say in Appalachia, corn cribs. Raised and roofed to keep out rats and rain, but ventilated to keep the crop from rotting. You probably can’t see it, but there are already stacks of corn in the one at top left.


Today is a visual and olfactory feast with lemon trees, forests of eucalyptus, voluptuous grapes dripping from overhead arbors, dahlias and wildflowers. We smell the lemon trees and the eucalyptus before we see them. And I drink deeply of it all, trying desperately to hold onto these moments, this being right here right now, so that it will be part of me forever.

For days now, Mike has been searching in every little market we pass for smoked salmon. Finally, in Arzua, he finds it. We gather crunchy whole grain bimbos (toasts), creamed cheese, capers, tomatoes, apples, and chocolate, of course, then walk on, keeping an eye out for the perfect spot to enjoy our picnic.


We pass tables sitting outside a closed restaurant in the sun and they beckon to us. Just as we get all our goodies spread out, a car drives by. Slowly. Studying us. The owner. Snap! Except, she doesn’t want us to move. She is not ready to open. She has come in early to cook and kindly invites us to stay and enjoy our meal. Galician hospitality!


Tonight we sleep at Albergue Bondi in Salceda, which is mediocre at best. But the hospitalero is very sweet. Here we have one of our more curious experiences.

After dinner at a nearby cafe, Jan and I are sitting in the kitchen/common area visiting with a grandmother and granddaughter who are walking the camino for the granddaughter’s 21stbirthday. A haggard and grizzly man marches in. He begins addressing us in an arrogant and flippant manner asking for money.–Here it should be noted that he came while he knew the hospitalero would be out and that we had seen him earlier at the cafe eating and drinking heartily.–No one gives him anything. He grumbles something obviously unkind and skulks out.

A few minutes later, he comes back and dramatically drops a small bag of dog food mixed with waste in the middle of the floor.–His request for food had been for his dog as well.–The grandmother asks him why he did this. “Why not?” he spews, then skulks out again leaving us scratching our heads. And cleaning up his mess. We have encountered beggars several times. Most are humble and kind. Not this one.


We are now less than 30k from Santiago. Tomorrow we will walk as far as Monte del Goza, Mount Joy, a traditional place of preparation for entering the holy city…

Imagine what the equivalents of a gracious arrival are for you. On the evening of your arrival, read from a sacred text that was written on the holy ground you stand upon. Write down something you want your grandchildren to remember you by. Leave behind an offering. Let your joy show. Savor the moment. Linger a while. Relish the idea that for now you are no longer a stranger in this world. Wonder about the saving grace that came your way. Remember that sacred places are those that eternity shines through like sunlight through a rose window.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage (emphasis mine)

*Thank you to Mike for the sunrise and the Salceda sign, and to David for the picnic.

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty


After yesterday’s rain, today dawns cold and spectacularly clear. We leave the cemetery behind, and pick up the trail through farmland. Lots of cows. Lots of cowpies.

The weather is perfect for walking, and we are growing so eager for Santiago that we walk 31.5 kilometers today, all the way to Melide.


We have been told that Melide is THE place to have Pulpo–Octopus–so we comply. It comes swimming in good olive oil. It is surprisingly delicate and delicious. And weird and tenticle-y. And one of the tenticles accidentally sticks to the plate. So… Mike and David suddenly have the brilliant idea to see how far off the table they can lift a plate with a piece of tenticled pulpo. Various techniques are employed, with varying levels of success. Plates rattle. Oil is splashed. A good time is had by all. πŸ™‚

Our Albergue, O Cruceiro, is lovely. It is a neoclassical building with beautiful wooden stair rails and heart pine floors. When we arrive, our hospitalera directs us to the lift (!), and when we get to the second floor, she unlocks the bathroom, the kitchen, and room in which the four of us will sleep. We have the whole floor to ourselves! Timing is everything. The first floor is full. This we learn when we walk down to do laundry. Sometime after we go to bed, four women take a second room, but we are unaware of them til morning.

We load the fridge with yogurt and fruit for breakfast and sleep a happy, snore-free sleep.


Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys…pilgrims are persons in motion–passing through territories not their own–seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.

~Richard R. Niebuhr

*My phone refused to take photos on this day, whining about there being “no room”. Imagine that. So I owe a debt to Mike for the top two photos, and David for the one at bottom. Thanks, fellas!


A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-nine


This morning we walk in light rain through dairy farms and down woodland paths.


We stop for lunch in Portomarin. The remains of the old town lie along the river creating an eerie and tragic feeling of destruction. The whole of it was flooded when they built the Balesar reservoir, with the exception of the Igrexa de San Juan (Church of St. John) which was moved, brick by numbered brick, to higher ground.


By the time we arrived at Casa Garcia in Gonzar it has grown cold, which is unfortunate because tonight’s quarters are unheated. With outdoor bathrooms. The adorable hospitalera leads us out of the bar/reception area and past the cemetery. “This is not your room,” she says. πŸ™‚ Thank goodness. But our room does share a common wall with the dead. Jose reports to us that the neighbors are very quiet. πŸ™‚


The room is beautiful with stone walls and floor, large timbered rafters supporting a wooden ceiling. Also, we are sleeping with our friends again which is always fun. And Mike and I have side by side bunks again which means we can snuggle when it gets cold. πŸ˜‰ I will be consoled somewhat for my middle of the night trip to the loo by a wide sky FULL of stars.

We hear rumors that a fire is roaring back at the bar and we pretty much leap from our sleeping bag cocoons to check it out. We plant ourselves in a circle, knees nearly touching the stove. It takes a while, but we finally thaw. The evening ends with singing, as it so often has.


Of all the communities available, the society of true seekers is the only one I want to devote myself to.

~Albert Einstein

*Thank you, Otto, for kindly sharing the video with me!!

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-eight


Jan says she wants no steep uphills or downhills on her birthday. We cannot make this happen for her. However, the rain we have been promised never materializes. So, there’s that.


Early in the day we pass a little hippie retreat with fruit and bread, eggs, nuts, juices, tea, and lots of hippie love in a cool open timbered barn with sofas clad in colorful saris. A soft spoken woman, probably American or Canadian we think, floats out the door of the house with more bread, and 5 yellow kittens at her heels. Everything is donativo. We suspect we might have stumbled into some kind of commune. But, the food is welcome as our first cafe is ten miles into the hike.


We pause for lunch in Sarria, a hillside town that marks the starting point for some pilgrims. To obtain a compostella, a certificate of completion of the camino, you are only required to have walked the final one hundred kilometers. Some pilgrims begin here because physical or time restraint does not allow them to do more. Others, because they can not be bothered. These are easy to identify. They are loud and flippant. They usually carry only a day pack and send their luggage ahead. They stop at all the kitchy souvenir shops (also new in Sarria) and buy tacky bumper stickers and t-shirts. They are tourists, not pilgrims. Touregrinos. Learning to live with them graciously will be a challenge.


After a burger and a beer, we resume our walk. By now, we have been joined by Jorge and Kelly, Otto and Jose, and their whole gang. We walk the final 3.6k into Barbadillo with them, belting out Neil Diamond hits.


Casa Barbadillo has accommodations that are modern and efficient, but the dining room is a showcase of antiques; a whole wall of sewing machines, plus cameras, telephones, and more. They are so lovely. Here we gather for Jan’s birthday dinner. The table is full. Friends take turns singing Happy Birthday to Jan in English, Portugese, French, German, Spanish and Hebrew.


We laugh at Jose and the waitress who have a playful banter all night. She is so funny. We also have a tender moment with him. He asks us why we are walking the camino. After giving our various answers, we ask him the same. He explains that he walks in gratitude for the extraordinary life he has been given. His eyes fill with tears as he says this, and so do ours.–Turns out, Jose is an important attorney in Brazil. He has presided over the bar association, and he and his wife Suely have raised three lawyers in their home. Since coming home, we have seen him in photographs with national leaders in very important meetings for the good of Brazil.–But on this night, and on this camino, he is one of us. We end the evening singing Willie Nelson tunes. Jose loves Willie. πŸ™‚


Santiago is close enough now that we can feel its pull. But, I think each of us is also struggling with the thought that soon this family that has grown so dear to us will be once again scattered to the seven winds…


If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.

~Frederick Buechner


*Thank you to David for the birthday photo, and to Mike for the photo with Jose as well as the crazy currencies at bottom of post.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-seven


Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

~John Muir


A steep, 2.3 kilometer climb brings us to the summit of O’Cebreiro, and out of Castille into Galicia. At breakfast, we encounter our first Tarta de Santiago, a sweet almond cake, a Galician specialty that will be present at every cafe hereafter.



Also unique to Galicia are Pallozas, whimsical round buildings with thatched roofs originally meant to shelter livestock (and sometimes humans). Now, they are often used as vacation homes. Some are elevated, others are nestled into the hill.


There are jawdropping vistas ALL DAY as we are in the mountains and can see FOREVER! Stone fences stripe the landscape making us think of the Galicians’ Celtic cousins in Ireland. Some fences have huge slabs of stone. It is difficult to imagine how they moved them there.


Early in the afternoon, we have a rather curious experience. As we pass through one of many cattle farms, a farm wife runs out to us with a plate of crepes. She sprinkles sugar on one and hands it to us, then another, finally a third empties the plate. Then she puts out her hand, “Donativo?” We hand her a couple of eruo coins, one of which drops in a fresh cowpile. No worries. She picks it up (with the same hand that held the crepes), wipes it on her pants and puts it in her pocket. All good. (insert Edvard Munch Scream emoticon here)


Later, we see a woman working in her lush, verdant garden. And just past this, the most gigantic chestnut tree I have ever seen.


We land in Triacastela for the evening at one of my least favorite albergues of the trip. It is only approximately clean and the bath fixtures are all in one room. Oh yeah, and they are butterscotch colored. I am glad the day has been cold and I do not really need a shower.


Dinner, on the other hand is FABULOUS!! I feel sure it was all good, but frankly all I can remember is the dessert: Queso Y Membrillo. Also a specialty of the area. We will have it again, but it will never be quite as good as this. Pungent, whipped sheep cheese with tangy quince preserve. Brilliant!! Quite possibly the best thing I ate the whole trip.


We have not been at dinner long when we are joined by Jorge and Kelly, Stephanie and Sarah, Otto and Jose, Lynn, Susan, and the whole gang who are staying at the adjacent albergue. There is hugging and laughter and an impromptu group photo.

Back in the albergue, fellow pilgrims have been boiling chestnuts collected along the way. They offer us some. Prepared in this way, they taste like potoatoes! Jan’s favorite. πŸ™‚ We stash yogurt and fruit in the fridge for next day and turn in early.


One week til Santiago…

*Thanks, Mike,for the elevated Palloza.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-six


Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…

~Elizabeth Barret Browning

Breakfast at our albergue is delicious and fortifying. While eating, we meet Susan who was a late arrival at the albergue the night before. She had been having a frightful time finding any place that could accommodate her. Jose had prevailed upon our young innkeepers on her behalf and they had pulled out a cot for her and allowed her to sleep in the lobby, at the base of the rock. She will become a fixture of our merry band from here on out. (Thanks, Otto, for reminding me of this part of the story.)


We head out into the darkness and promptly make a wrong turn. Happily, we discover our error before too much damage has been done and are able to make correction. Much of today’s walk is along the road, but on the other side of the path is a gurgling river which makes us mostly forget about the road. There is a remarkable irony as we walk past ancient, sometimes derelict, buildings, while in the distance, towering modern bridges convey commuters crossing the country at break-neck speed.


We are just getting into cattle country when we stop for lunch at a lovely outdoor cafe overlooking a pasture, and the river beyond. Trees are being felled on the heavily forested hill just above the river and it makes the cattle dogs nervous. We feast on fresh, beautiful salads and fortify ourselves for the big climb that awaits us.


Most of our friends stop in La Faba for the night, but we decide to press on to Laguna de Castilla. We are very glad of this next morning when we already have an extra 2.3k of hills out of the way.


We lodge at Albergue La Escuela, right smack dab in the middle of a dairy farm. We even watch them drive the dairy cows to and from the milking barn. In some ways, this is all very familiar as my grandparents made their living milking cows, and I saw this scene played out more times than I can remember in the mountains of my childhood.


Here we have Galician soup for the first, but thankfully not the last, time. Potatoes, kale, beans. Hearty, warm, and delicious. We visit with Boyd and James, a father and son from Australia. And we meet “Martin the Healer”. An odd bird, he is walking the camino for the second time, is covering long distances (40k/day) and claims to have healing powers. He trys them out on James who is having difficulty with his knee, but the jury is still out on his effectiveness when we leave them.


There are autumn blooming crocus everywhere, mallow and foxgloves growing along the fence, and some other scrumptious wild flower I don’t recognize growing in profusion with deep purple buds that open to dark pink blossoms (see top of post). I can’t stop taking pictures. I know I will never capture what it is to stand on this mountain with these bright blossoms all around me, and the lowing of the cattle and the earthy smell of them, and the good, wholesome fatigue in my legs and feet, and the deep peace inside me. But I know that when I look at the images, I will remember.

And that is enough.


Travel Note: At this point in our journey, we have begun making advance reservations at albergues most days. Opinions are divided on whether this is appropriate. Some albergues do not even allow them. But, the number of pilgrims grows daily as we near Santiago, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find rooms at the end of a long day. So we are buying ourselves a bit of insurance. Each pilgrim must decide for himself. It does require having a phone with cell service (thx David), or a kind innkeeper who will call for you. You can, and should, cancel if you see you are not going to make it that far or decide to go farther. There is usually a limit to how late they will hold a bed for you before giving it to someone else.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-five


Up before dawn, as usual, so that we enter Ponferrada in golden lamp light. By the time we reach the 12th century Knights Templar Castle, however, there is light enough to make out its turrets and drawbridges.


We breakfast in a cafe just across from the castle that looks as though it could be part of the castle cellar with its arched stone roof. Or a bodega. πŸ™‚


We are back in wine country. The Bierzo region. There is harvesting going on. And leaves are beginning to put on their fall dresses. The effect is spectacular. A glorious feast for the eyes. And the nose.




When we arrive at Albergue de la Piedra, in Villafranca del Bierzo, the young hospitalaro offers us tea and coffee and directs us to tins of biscuits on the tables. He and his lovely bride receive us as though we are guests in their home. “de la Piedra” means “of the rock”, and it is so called because, well…


This photo is taken in our room!! The whole structure is built into and around a giant hunk of granite. And our windows open out onto a flower-clad balcony and the gurgling river below. That river will be our lullaby. But that’s not all. Oh no! Jan, David, Mike and I are in a little alcove for four that opens into another room where a whole host of our pilgrim family is also sleeping: Otto, Jose, Jorge, Kelly, Kathy, Catherine… There is singing. Of course. And goodnights a la the Waltons.


Otto keeps collecting stories. Sometimes the stories come looking for him. Like today. The words below are his. (It will be helpful to know that Otto’s much beloved late wife is named Maria Luise).

Today as I was walking alone, this 80 year old Spanish woman suddenly came out of her house and started talking to me in Spanish. I said no comprende. No espanole. She kept talking, she insisted on telling me something. Where is Jose when you need him I thought. I knew he was behind me. After a few minutes he showed up. Please I said …what does she want. She wanted to tell me that I reminded her of her husband who died years ago in a accident. So I politely listened to her story as Jose translated. When she finished I asked her name…she said my name is Maria Luiese ..I kissed her and she gave me a big hug…I know the door is open God but what are you trying to tell me…believe me you can’t make this stuff up…buen camino…Otto

Buen camino, friend.

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